In the Gospel of Matthew (16:21-27), we see how Jesus and Peter had two diametrically opposed views of what is sensible, honorable and commendable. The two views could not be reconciled.
What is remarkable about this incident which took place right after Peter was blessed and praised by Jesus for confessing him as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, is that it is recorded at all. The fact that it was recorded a couple of generations after Jesus had ascended into heaven in his glory, proves that the view held by Peter was shared by many other disciples of Jesus and also by future generations of Christians, ours included.
Jesus’ claim of honor consists in complete obedience to what the Father has decreed including his suffering and death at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes. It is so because obedience to the Father is the force that sustains him: (cf. John 4:34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.”) Obedience to the Father shall be the way to glory and honor in the resurrection. (cf. John 8:49)
Peter challenges that way to honor by saying: “God forbid, Lord!” He contests God’s plan and suggests that the sensible way for things to unfold would be via a change of the divine arrangement to fit the human standard of gaining honor and recognition. In other words, Peter reasons that there must be a relatively easy way to glory. Therefore Jesus gets very upset with Peter and calls him a Satan, i.e.: an adversary standing in the way of true honor, a tester of Jesus’ loyalty to the Father.
Jesus speaks openly: He must go to Jerusalem, there he must suffer greatly.
Now, before we rush to condemn Peter, we should remember that, in similar situations, we resort at least to mumbling under our breath or to shake our head disapprovingly. And, ours like Peter’s, is not love or interest for Jesus’ wellbeing, but the instinct of self-preservation. Because both Peter and we know that whoever wishes to come after Jesus (become his disciple) must deny himself/herself (disown one’s self as being the center of all care and attentions) take up his/her cross, (the cross is the most dishonorable way of dying; not just a painful weight on our shoulders that eventually will be lifted) and follow, Jesus—to our Calvary.
Life and glory and honor are achieved this way, exclusively.
Peter’s way, (ours too so far) is irreconcilable with Jesus’ and with the Father’s. It seems that Sunday after Sunday, Peter and all of us pass the test of knowledge about Jesus (“you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”) but we might fail miserably the road test. We pass the theory, we might flunk the practice.
This is self-preservation, as I said; this is what society tells us; promotes with lots of fanfare; teaches as the progressive new way to emancipation, freedom, self-expression, self-affirmation and self-promotion. We, who have fallen partially in love with our Lord; who have tasted the goodness of the Lord in the Eucharist, amid past trials, we might still embrace the world’s philosophy, if only to a degree.
But, now there are so many people who brainwash our kids, the newest generations, with rights without corresponding duties; payment without occupation; promotion without serious studying; praises also for insignificant achievements, entitlements rather than what is earned through hard work, etc.
So, it is not different from Peter’s suggestion: Resurrection without the cross. We ought to be careful for ourselves and for our children.
And now that I warned you against our modern society, our modern “Satans,” let me warn you about a different Satan, a different obstacle, a different, insidious, subtle tester of loyalty: ourselves. We can be, and perhaps are, “Satan” to each other.
- We could do so by living a life as inconvenience-free and as comfort-filled as possible: (cf. Matthew 7:13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.)
- We could tempt others to do the same, thus attempting to avert the cross.
- We could do so by shrinking our circle of concern to include only selected family members and those from whom we can benefit considerably.
- We could do so by living in “spiritual luxuries” with lots of prayers and daily Holy Masses, plenty of religious practices, but with little time for the corporal works of mercy or to support the unleashing of the Gospel here and in mission lands.
You might think of other ways we can be “Satan” to each other. They are all ways in which we try to save our life by “targeted loving” which, of course, is the opposite of genuine loving.
Jesus is honored by the Father because his love is all-encompassing, boundary-free and across the millennia. (cf. Romans 5:8 But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.)
St. Paul, who experienced directly what it means to be loved when we know we are not lovable, has a wonderful suggestion about imitating Christ and receiving honor from the Father: “I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)
Peter had first to own up to his threefold betrayal and his many less-than-lovable actions before he could change his mind and be ready himself to offer his body in a supreme sacrifice.
From heaven, Peter joins Paul and all the martyrs in urging us to seek the honor that the Father has in store for us by using our bodies to love, to serve, to wash each other’s feet, to carry each other’s burdens.
We cannot forget that we are unable to perform concrete acts of loving unless we make our bodies available for this joyous service.
We might not be martyrs who shed their blood literally for Christ and his Body, the Church; but we can all be martyrs whose generous and protracted sacrifices might go unnoticed except for the One who sees in secret (cf. Matthew 6:4) and is eager to honor and glorify us.