Get Behind Me, Satan!

Aug 29, 2017

Gospel Reflection, Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Jeremiah 20: 7-9; Romans 12: 1-2; Matthew 16: 21-27

Get Behind Me, Satan!

Can you imagine a greater contrast?  Peter has just solemnly confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the loving God, the long-awaited for Savior of God’s people from all bondage and oppression.  But then Jesus begins to talk not about victory and new freedom, but of imminent suffering and being killed.  This must have seemed like an unbearable contradiction to the apostles and especially to Peter.

So it is understandable, at least in human terms that Peter immediately wants to implore our Lord, “God forbid, Lord!  No such thing shall ever happen to you.”  The Messiah and Savior is to conquer, not suffer; he is to liberate, not perish.  So Peter places himself protectively in front of him. 

There is hardly any other passage where Jesus reacts so abruptly and harshly: “Get behind me, Satan!”  He calls Peter who he made the rock of the Church just a little while ago a Satan.  It must strike Jesus deep in his heart that Peter wants to keep him from his path.  But then we realize that Satan tried to do exactly that in tempting Jesus in the desert.

But unlike his treatment of the devil, Jesus does not drive Peter away; instead he issues a challenge to him.  Follow me because your way is not God’s way.  Your ideas of freedom, happiness, and salvation are not God’s plans. 

We can sympathize with Peter because he means well for his beloved Master, not wanting to see him suffer.  But this is too serious of a matter.  What a profound change of thinking is demanded of us here!  Jesus knows of a deep reality of life known as self-denial without which there is no true happiness.  If we desire
self-realization on our own terms, we will waste our lives.  Those who risk, give away, and not anxiously hold on to their lives will gain them.  Jesus traveled this road to the end and now the Cross has become a symbol of great hope and new life.  Peter changed his ways and followed Jesus even to death on the Cross, which he suffered in Rome, the place where the Basilica stands today.  It is the place where his successor, Pope Francis lives out for us an example of self-denial with hope and courage to face life and to liberate many with compassion and mercy.

Father Tony