22st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
The Face of the Old Testament Prophecies
Give any bad news a face and we react differently. Hear about starving children in Africa and we are sorry before going about our business. See a picture of a starving child in Africa and we open our wallets. It’s no different for Peter.
All of Peter’s life, he has heard the Old Testament scripture. When Jesus tells the disciples that “He must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly…and be killed and on the third day be raised” (v. 21), it’s not new information. The difference is now it has a face. Jesus, the disciples’ friend and the Man they have come to see as the Messiah, is the one who must suffer and die.
Once the Old Testament prophecies are specific, Peter finds it impossible to reconcile the man who heals the sick, teaches with brilliance, and is so kind with the suffering and death required of the scriptural Messiah. Maybe Jesus had a hard time with it too. Perhaps that’s why His response is so harsh, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me” (v. 23). Perhaps Jesus is tempted to let His friends protect, even hide, Him. Perhaps He considers, however briefly, a bargain with God. He doesn’t fully know the future, and the unknown can be terrifying.
Jesus, as it will become evident at the actual Passion, doesn’t want to suffer and die. He will even ask that God give Him a pass (Matt. 26:39). We don’t know how many details Jesus had of the coming struggles. We just know that He knew it wouldn’t be easy. So when Peter reacts to his friend’s prediction of His future, Jesus can’t have it.
Jesus uses the same words here to address Peter that He does in the desert when He confronts Satan. Why so strong? After all, Satan wanted to lead Jesus astray. Peter just wants to protect His friend. Their motivations are entirely different. I think Jesus’s words emphasize His humanity. He had to trust God just as much as we do. He did not have “advance information” that made His choices any easier.
Jesus doesn’t just tell Peter, “You don’t understand.” He says, “You are an obstacle to me.” In a way, He speaks to all of us: “You ALL are obstacles to yourselves.” In a minute, Jesus will tell them, “You must deny yourself” (v. 24); basically, we have to take ourselves out of the equation. When Jesus tells Peter that Peter is an obstacle, He’s saying, “I can’t consider my human desires, my friends. If I focus on that, which is what I very much want to do, I can’t be part of the greater plan.” What’s amazing is that as a human, Jesus was able to do that. But to do it, He had to show the disciples how. He had to put God first. Jesus might not have been sure of exactly what was coming, but He was exactly sure where He needed to put His trust.