From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’ (Matthew 16:21-28)
When we last left our heroes Jesus and Peter last Sunday, Jesus was being pretty complimentary to Peter for figuring out (with the aid of the Holy Spirit since Pete's not swift enough to come up with this on his own) that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of the Living God. This Sunday, however, our gospel from the Revised Common Lectionary has Peter totally misreading the situation and coming in for a royal butt-chewing from Jesus. If you're anything like me, you'll have to admit that Jesus is the very last person you'd ever want to give you a dressing down—even though every last one of us deserves one (and if you don't think you do you're kidding yourself!).
Peter just doesn't quite get what it means to be the Chosen One of God. It's not about power, fame, prestige, wealth, or any of those earthly things. Jesus tells his disciples to carry their cross. That is, they are to be prepared to suffer for the sake of the gospel. I've heard it said that the cross we're called to carry might not always be our own. This is no injunction to suffer in silence for those who are being crushed beneath the weight of poverty, loneliness, violence, or other oppressions. Just as Simon of Cyrene picked up Jesus' cross when the Lord could bear it no longer, so we in the Church are constantly called to shoulder the cross of others' suffering. But lots of times there are things which get in the way.
Yeah, I agree it might sound a little harsh for Jesus to call Peter “Satan.” To us, this title conjures up images of a nasty little red dude with a forked tail and horns. Very unflattering, don't you think? However, in Jesus' time, “Satan” might have meant just the same as it did in the book of Job. A “Satan” was an inhibitor. In Job, Satan does God's will by blocking Job's prosperity. Although I'm certain he believed in the medieval notion of a demonic creature, Martin Luther located evil not only in the devil, but in the culture and in our own selfish nature (see explanation to the Sixth Petition of the Lord's Prayer in The Small Catechism).
Perhaps dear Peter is falling victim to a culture which only values power, wealth, and prestige? Doesn't our own world inhibit us from our purpose of cross-carrying at times? Some months ago I wrote a post about the Canadian actress Ellen Page when she spoke at a Human Rights Campaign's “Time to Thrive” event. I applauded Miss Page for speaking out against the expectations of the culture which draw young people away from their true selves. It seems that Miss Page had been advised to hide the fact that she is gay from her public for fear that such a disclosure would jeopardize her film career. Nevertheless, she made the bold decision to introduce herself for who she really is, a decision which doubtless gave courage to countless other young people. Similarly, she warned her audience about a culture which preaches the virtues of being beautiful, thin, wealthy, and perpetually young (and probably in possession of the fanciest new electronic device as well!).
The values of the world, coupled with our own insecurity about being worthy, are stones in the road of our true purpose. Sometimes I wonder if, as the Church, we value huge worship attendance, sumptuous sanctuaries, doctrinal purity, and community prominence more than we value mission to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This gospel reading calls us to cast ourselves in the role of Peter and ask what Satans are keeping us from God's purpose. What lie are we chasing which keeps us from being authentically alive in our relationship with God? How do our own expectations or desires stand in the way of what God wants for us and for the world?
I don't know about you, but I catch myself being a stumbling block all the time. Sometimes I need a lesson like this reading to remind me that all of the earthly glories—praise, authority, prestige, possessions—will all cease to be of value when I'm dead. I'll only find my eternal value in the cross of Jesus.
Thanks for reading, my friends!