Matthew 16 : 21 – 27
Last week we heard a passage immediately before this Gospel in which Peter responded to the question of Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter makes a profession of faith in Jesus in declaring his belief that “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16: 16) Jesus’ response to this shows his high regard toward Peter, “I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16: 18 – 19) This is followed by Jesus making the first prediction of His Passion. Peter gives, what seems to be, a sensible and caring response, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” (Matthew 16:22) The response of Jesus to this was no doubt unexpected by Peter. “Get behind me Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Matthew 16: 23)
Within a few short verses Peter goes from being the rock to satan. What a drastic change and one that probably had the heads of Peter and the others spinning. What Peter did to cause this change of direction in Jesus’ remarks is very simple: Peter made a bold profession of faith, but he didn’t follow through with it. It’s similar to when he had the courage to step out of the boat and walk on water, but not the faith to remain afloat, and when he spoke boldly at the Last Supper that he would never deny Jesus, but a few short hours later denied him three times. Peter had the courage to speak out, but wavered in acting it out.
This passage is subtle compared to walking on water and the denial. When Jesus predicted his passion it would seem that it was a caring and kind response of Peter to express his hope that this would never happen. Who of us truly wants to see bad things happen to people? Jesus’ problem with Peter isn’t that he spoke kind words, but that his words were contrary to God’s plan. Peter’s words hoped for a change in God’s plan. Jesus calls him an obstacle for speaking these words. This is a case where the unintended evil would far outweigh the intended good of Peter’s words. Maybe if Peter said something like this, “May you find strength in your suffering, and be assured that we will remain with you,” Jesus would have responded differently.
Jesus goes on tell them that all his followers will face crosses and they must be willing to take up the cross and follow him. We don’t like to think of crosses, whether it be the cross of Christ, a cross we carry, or the cross of someone else. But Jesus makes it clear that crosses are part of discipleship and they should be embraced as opportunities for grace and not as obstacles in our lives. It takes a strong foundation of faith to do this, like Peter the rock. It also takes the ability to follow through in living our faith, even to accepting the crosses that come with life. I would much rather be the sturdy foundation rock, than the obstacle that shakes my faith. May we be both steadfast in professing our faith and bold in living it.
Fr. Killian Loch, O.S.B.