Poor Peter—up one minute, down the next. Out of the group of Apostles (not always renowned for their astuteness) Peter speaks up and correctly identifies Jesus as “the Christ,” the Anointed One, the Messiah. But then, not only is he not allowed to say anything to anybody, he rebukes Jesus(never a winning idea) and thus gets a complete smackdown, a messianic whap upside the head, complete with Jesus calling him “Satan” (the tempter, the seducer, the gainsayer, the adversary, the father of lies).
Of course, for Peter and company, the messiah was the long hoped-for ruler who would cast off the shackles that bound the Chosen People and restore the kingdom of the God of Israel; not one who would face suffering, rejection, and death. And if it was unbelievable that the messiah should suffer and die, then surely the part about “rising after three days” would also have fallen on deaf ears.
In being called “Satan,” Peter was admonished for being a ‘stumbling block,’ like an obstacle or a pothole in the road causing forward movement to stifle. It was ‘satanic’ for him to try to impede the Christ from accomplishing the great work of God: His passion, death, and resurrection. Peter’s intentions might have been noble, but we’ve all heard what they say about good intentions and the way which they pave. Truly, Peter was not ready to hear the truth of the Paschal Mystery, the mystery of faith; not yet able to trust in God’s will above his own, especially since God’s will leads to the Cross. But Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” This is key to understanding who we are as Christians.
Yet each of us faces temptations and stumbling blocks along the way: for example, a culture that promotes individualism, and secularism, and relativism; in addition to our own instinct for pleasure-seeking and self-preservation. And even if we do not necessarily fear death itself, I believe there is often a deeper and more personal fear: that of losing our lives, that is, who we are/our very selves. Far from taking up our cross and living life in Christ, the Adversary wants to trip us up by encouraging us to not keep our eyes and ears open to God, encouraging us to watch out for ourselves and thus try to save ourselves, forgetting that salvation only comes through Christ, and Him crucified; and that that salvation has already been won for us by His death and resurrection.
The question, then, is how do we avoid the pitfalls? Certainly, the answer lies not within us but within God, the Trinity of Persons bound together in a complete exchange of knowing and loving; a total self-offering, given a human face in the person of Jesus, who ransomed His life for our salvation. God calls us to enter into a share in this divine life of self-giving in the midst of a community of love. Through the resurrection of Christ, the Cross became the sign of the triumph of life and love over death and sin. We who died and rose with Christ in baptism must always seek to grow in the wisdom and knowledge of God: that laying down our lives/that giving of ourselves will lead us not to destruction but to the fullness of life.
In truth, we participate in all of this in our celebration of the Eucharist, when the Paschal Mystery is made present to us on the altar. United with the Body and Blood of Christ that was laid down for us, we have the grace to lay down our lives in obedience to God’s will, each in the way that we are called to do, giving of ourselves in the midst of our families and communities. This always involves sacrifice, and may even involve some suffering. But as Isaiah says in our first reading, we have God as our help, and He his near; so together with God we can stand firm in faith, ready to do God’s will—dying and rising in Christ.
©2017 St. Peters Catholic Church Huron Ohio.
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