In the Gospel of Matthew (16:21-27), Jesus rebukes Peter saying, “Get behind me Satan!” The New American Bible translates that line as “Get out of my sight, you Satan!” This is one of the strongest rebukes by Jesus found in the New Testament. And I can’t help but feel sorry for Peter as I read those lines.
Put yourself in Peter’s shoes. He had been following Jesus for some time. He had seen His many signs and miracles. Peter saw Him heal the sick. He witnessed Jesus as he expelled the demons. Peter was there when Jesus fed the multitude. He was there to see Jesus walk on the water. Peter, along with James and John, had witnessed the Transfiguration. And in the passage that immediately precedes the one we read today, Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter responds by saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus says to him, “Blest are you Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.”
Peter had to be on a spiritual high. The long awaited Messiah has finally come. He is here; the mighty military liberator that we have been waiting for. Our Messiah, that powerful political leader is here. The one that will free the nation of Israel is finally here. And not only is He here, He called me the “Rock”. I am certain that Peter was entertaining visions of being in the front office when Jesus came into His own.
Peter totally misunderstood what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah. Jesus corrects that misunderstanding. This is the first of three passion predictions found in Matthew’s Gospel. In this Gospel text, Jesus corrects the faulty notions that emphasize power, glory and triumph. Jesus explains to Peter that the Messiah must suffer, die, and be raised on the third day. Peter is shocked by this revelation. To him, this talk about suffering has got to be nonsense. If anything, the Messiah must be strong, glorious and victorious in all that He does. “God forbid Lord! No such thing should ever happen to You.” And Jesus strongly rebukes Peter for his response. He called him Satan.
Jesus then explains what it means to be a disciple. A true disciple of Jesus is not a person set on attaining power, glory and fame. The disciple of Jesus is the person who follows in the footsteps of the Master. In other words, the way of the Cross is the only way to true discipleship.
A disciple of Jesus must give up the false understanding of the purpose of our earthly life. We are not here to seek the glory of self-attainment and the possession of power. We are here to learn how to love unconditionally. Real glory and real power come with self-denial and service to others. This is how Jesus lived out His Messianic mission on earth. This is how the faithful followers of Jesus are also to live their lives on earth.
The Prophet Jeremiah (20:7-9) is an excellent example of this message. Jeremiah knew in his heart, that he was commissioned by God to be His prophet. To proclaim God’s word! He reminded his contemporaries that they were God’s chosen people; that their primary purpose in life was to be loyal servants of God. But, like the other prophets of the Old Testament, Jeremiah met with a great deal of resistance to this message. He was ridiculed in the royal court. His written word was thrown into the fire after it was read to the king. Jeremiah was imprisoned. He was cast into a pit. And he was forcibly removed from Jerusalem.
Jeremiah’s sermons brought him nothing but scorn. It made him a national laughing stock. This was more than his sensitive soul could bear. He had had it “up to here”. He wanted to call it quits. But the truth could not be contained. It was like a raging fire in his heart; a blaze that could not be dampened, a fire that could not be extinguished. And so, in spite of the laughter, in spite of the cold indifference, in spite of the physical persecution, Jeremiah went on proclaiming God’s message for 50 years.
Sometimes our own attempts to help others may appear to be futile. Our efforts and comments may even be met with ridicule and scorn. Nevertheless, Jesus reminds us that, “Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” St. Paul, also, in his Letter to the Romans (12:1-2), reminds us to “Offer our bodies as a living sacrifice.”
Charity demands wholehearted self-giving! Even when it means that our own needs will not be met. Jesus came to earth to give His all for us; and He calls us all to follow His example by saying “Come follow me.” We are called to sacrifice our wants and needs for the benefit of others.
This does not mean that Jesus is calling all of us to live our lives as missionaries, or that we are to devote all of our free time to serving the Church or the community. But rather, Jesus is calling all humanity to a change of heart, a new attitude, a new way of life, to learn how to love unconditionally. In whatever capacity our walk in life finds us, we are to live that life for others.
For the unbeliever, this message sounds like a terrible burden. But in reality, it is no burden at all; because it is the only path in this life to finding true happiness and peace. And it is the only path to eternal life.