At Caesarea Philippi, Peter has answered the question that Jesus asks -- one that must have been on the minds of the other disciples as to just who Jesis is. At that point Peter becomes a focus of the disciples as Jesus not only gives him a new name -- Peter -- but also announces that to him belong the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. This elevates Peter in the eyes of the others, and cements his role in the life of the Church.
Just as the disciples must feel that they have met a plateau in their relationship with Jesus, his messianic mission, and with one another, Jesus completely changes the dialogue and, most certainly the mood.
With full determination and purpose, Jesus now sets his face to Jerusalem. With the disciples having expressed the insight through Peter that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus now explains to them the meaning of his mission. This is not what they expected. The warning that they were going to Jerusalem where he would be handed over to be put to death was not how they understood the messianic mission. It is Peter who again speaks for the disciples, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
Peter’s intent here seems to be unclear. He does tend, as we know from other events in the Gospels, that he can be a bit quick to speak at times, not always putting him in the best light. He does not appear to be telling Jesus that this is not why they are going to Jerusalem, and instead is offering a blessing that such a thing should never happen to him. Peter cannot imagine that this would be the eventual outcome of the ministry of Jesus or of their time as disciples with him.
Jesus clearly does not see it that way, and resoundingly rebukes Peter here, even calling him Satan. This is quite the turnaround from a few minutes earlier when Peter is given the keys to the kingdom. To be called a “satan” or temptor, is harsh enough, but it also tells us quite a bit about the mindset of Jesus at this point.
Peter does not want to see Jesus go to Jerusalem to be handed over and killed. We would not wish that on anyone, especially not someone with whom we had staked our own hopes and expectations. The followers of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or any other great social reformer, prophet, or missionary, do not want to see their lives end in tragedy, perhaps leading to an end of the mission that they shared together. So, one certainly cannot blame Peter for his plea.
The harshness of the response of Jesus clues us in to how Jesus was beginning to understand his own mission. This is the first of three occasions where Jesus will share this warning with his disciples. It is the only time that any of them respond. It almost seems that Jesus speaks thus so that he might come to terms with the meaning of the mission for himself. The quick rebuke of
Peter suggests that perhaps Jesus found the idea of it not happening that way as more appealing. Certainly, Jesus could have made the steps to prevent that outcome. Yet, he is firm and does not delay in making the trek to Jerusalem. So, while Jesus shuts Peter down here, in the not-too-distant future Jesus will himself exclaim: “Father, take this cup from me.”
As the paths of our own lives unfold before us we, too, can try to block God’s will for us. Sometimes we actively work against the call of God in our lives. In some ways this can be easy to do. Our “no” can be strong, and our ”yes” can be tepid.
Walking the path -- especially the path of suffering -- is very difficult and daunting. Yet, the Lord who calls us to the walk does not do so without giving us the grace and the strength to do so with grace and faith.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.