Are We Behind Jesus?
Hupage opiso mou, Satana! … Ei tis thelei opiso mou elthei
Go/get behind me, Satan! … If someone wishes/desires/wants to come behind me …
There is no such thing as “leading from behind.” As Christians, we are led – we are not leaders. Jesus leads: we follow. That is the way it must be. When Peter offers his rebuke of Jesus and His plan, Jesus must put him in his place – not out of anger, but out of love. Without Jesus in front of him, Peter can never hope to succeed as a disciple. So, Jesus uses this phrase, Húpage opísō mou, meaning “Get behind/in back of/after me.” That is the place of a true disciple. Jesus goes on to clarify this; these are not two separate statements, one for Peter and one for the others. They are part of one coherent teaching of Christ: If someone wants to come behind me… The same words are used for that place: behind (opísō).
For us as a Church, we must look to our leaders, but we should look for the ones who themselves are willing to be led. These are the ones who are behind – but behind Jesus. Otherwise, they don’t know where they are going – where they are leading.
Peter’s problem, as Jesus points out, is that he is not looking at things through God’s plan. Rather, he is trying to guide Jesus by his own ideas of how He should proceed and is in essence taking the lead himself. Where would Peter have led Jesus? Where would he have led the disciples? Where would he have led the Church (assuming the Church could survive his misguided leadership!)?
Jesus wants His disciples to be focused – and focused on the values of the Kingdom of Heaven. These are heavenly values; they are God’s values. When Peter interrupted Jesus and scolded Him for all that talk of suffering and death, he was placing his values in human things, trying to wrest control of the situation from Jesus.
We are all called to be disciples. This first means that we recognize the One Whom we follow, the One from Whom we learn, the One Who leads us. If Jesus has a place for us, then that is good enough; and that place is “opísō” – behind Him. However, if we wish to be behind Jesus, we must also be willing to walk where He leads, and He is not cryptic about that either. We must be willing to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. That is what frightened Peter, and that is probably what frightens us too. By giving up control, we give up the certainty that our own power seems to offer.
But human certainty is an illusion. When we set out on our own, without any clear direction or order in our lives, then we soon become lost, aimless, and fearful. By calling us to step behind Him, Jesus is offering us comfort – He is offering us salvation from aimlessness and fear. This is because He Himself goes first. The suffering that Jesus promises is His suffering, and He will share yours. That is why St. Paul exhorts us “by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” This is only possible if we unite our lives with Jesus; if we “get behind” Him.
That is why we need leaders who are willing to “get behind” Jesus – to follow Him, the true Shepherd. When someone is doing that, you know it. His or her life is marked by a sense of justice and peace, but also joy and compassion toward others. Their leadership gives life and hope to those whom they lead. These are the leaders we need – not agenda-driven ideologues or dictators – neither in our nations or in our Church. Jesus is the center – it is He whose death gives life; it is He whose love brings healing and wholeness. His way is the way to heaven.
This week, let’s focus on “getting behind Jesus.” Consider those places where we are trying to outrun Him, where we second guess God, where we feel sort of lost. Those are the places where Jesus calls us to step back. You will know these places, since they are where you may feel the most restless, the most lost. Like Jeremiah in the First Reading, we might feel a burning discomfort in our hearts because we are stifling God’s will for us and others. That is where Jesus asks us to surrender to Him, to step aside, get behind Him, and allow Him to lead us to peace.
Each of us is thirsting for God. We are simply built to need Him. The inquietude in our hearts is a function of that fact. We responded to the psalm, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.” Let’s make those words truly our own and allow Jesus to lead us to the living waters that bring us peace and eternal life. True “success” as disciples is what we find “behind” Him.