The Tertium Quid

"You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns."

Mark 8:31-38

February 26, 2021, Words By: Joel Van Dyke, Image By: Unknown

Ever move from applause to rebuke in the blink of an eye?   

We continue in our Lenten journey to the cross and this week find ourselves with Jesus and the disciples in Caesarea Philippi. Peter has just answered a question from Jesus correctly and is likely feeling pretty good about himself until he hears Jesus sputtering some nonsense about suffering, rejection, and death. So as not to embarrass Jesus in front of the others, Peter pulls him aside for a private rebuke because Jesus’ description of the future does not match up to Peter’s human understanding of proper Messianic activity.

Peter is convinced that his narrative is the correct one and thus he steps up to try and protect Jesus from a false narrative that will lead to big problems. Peter has two categories – right and wrong. Peter sees it as his job to correct the “wrongness” in the other and in doing so enters into rivalry. Does this sound like anything you’ve seen or experienced this past year? 

The essence of Peter’s heart was revealed in light of the beautiful question that Jesus asked in Caesarea Philippi (“Who do you say that I am?”). In light of what is exposed in Peter, Jesus calls him Satan because he is engaging present circumstance with a “diabolical mind.” The word diabolos means to cast alongside or to cast apart. It means to divide or separate and to do so forcefully or violently. This is what the devil does; he divides and separates through violence. Herein lies what is at the heart of rivalistic posturing and Jesus is calling Peter out for falling into rivalry with him. Jesus demands that violent rivalry get behind him as he will not be deterred from “God’s concern” by the diabolical thinking of those around him. 

As a child, I often wondered what Biblical characters looked like. Today, however, to see what Peter looks like I simply need to stand in front of a mirror. In the unveiling that has been 2020, have we not all, like Peter, been tempted to incite violence out of diabolical thinking that pulls the “other” aside for corrective rebuke? 

As opposed to diabolical “tit for tat” posturing, what the world desperately needs now are “third-way” leaders, leaders who willingly get behind and follow the peace-making Jesus. Jesus rejects diabolical thinking and invites Peter and the disciples to a way of showing up in the world that is beyond the dualism of either/or to the gift of both/and. Leaders following in the footsteps of Jesus do not see the world in terms of win/lose, but in terms of win/win. When confronted between two options that are in rivalry, they look for a third way. This posture has been referred to as the reconciling third, or “tertium quid.” This is not complicity or compromise but rather the ability to reconcile opposites into a new whole. Third-way leaders are “contemplative activists” and are able to hold tension, incorporate the negative, see without judgment and act without compulsion. Our cities, our families, our world are all desperately in need of contemplative activism.  

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.” 


Jesus invites Peter to a field out beyond the dualistic categories that he has staked his life on. On the way to the Cross this Lent, Jesus’ invitation is made afresh. 

Can you see the field? 

About The Author

Joel Van Dyke