Just last week, we heard Jesus praise Simon Peter’s faith after he declared Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter must have been rather pleased with himself over that bit of acclamation from the Lord. However, we find out this week that it didn’t last very long. Today, we hear Jesus rebuke Peter rather sharply: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
How do you come back from that? The Lord just called him “Satan.” I’m pretty sure that’s a bad thing. Jesus tells Peter that he is now keeping Jesus from doing what He came to do; that he is an “obstacle” to that mission; and that he should step out of the way – specifically, get behind me.
Have you ever been criticized like that? Has anyone ever “put you in your place?” It hurts, doesn’t it? What’s your first reaction to such a situation? Typically, my response is to brood and then try and find something unseemly about that critic so I can make myself feel better. How dare anyone speak against me? In our lives, we all believe that we have some sort of grasp on right and wrong (or at least, “correct” and “incorrect”), and to have someone call that grasp into question or even suggest that we are wrong ourselves is a very tough pill to swallow. Our pride usually won’t let us survive that kind of encounter, which we almost always view as an “attack.”
However, what if we are wrong? What if we are placing an obstacle in the way of Jesus’ accomplishing His will in our life and world? Are we humble enough to accept that criticism – whether it comes from ourselves or from someone else? Can we change?
Paul exhorts us: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” He is talking about just that sort of conversion that Jesus wants to see in Peter and in all of us. We cannot think as human beings do; rather, we are to “discern the will of God” and follow that. Statistically speaking, we are bound to be wrong at some point in our lives. Humility means opening ourselves up to that transformation that Paul is talking about.
Jesus is not afraid to call out poor discipleship, especially when it is getting in the way of His mission. He is not concerned with whether Peter or any of the others will remain His friends. In love, Christ had to correct Peter – and He then turns to instruct the others on that cost of discipleship.
“Get behind me,” He says. But Jesus isn’t dismissing Peter, or any other disciple for that matter. Rather, He is putting a disciple in his place: behind Jesus – because only when we are behind Christ can we truly follow Him. That means taking up our cross; and sometimes that cross feels like a challenge to deeply held opinions, attitudes, and beliefs.
It is not Christian to support the murder of babies in the womb. It is not Christian to support euthanasia or assisted suicide. It is not Christian to set aside Jesus’ teachings in order to fit in with the times. It is not Christian to downplay racial inequality and prejudice. It is not Christian to hate and judge immigrants or refugees. It is not Christian to treat women as objects, children as commodities, and sex as recreation. It is not Christian to ignore other people’s pain because it makes you uncomfortable. And yet, so much of this is a subtle part of all of our lives – all of us. We need to root it out and allow the light of Christ to dispel it.
When we allow our pride to get in the way of other people’s pain and cry for justice, and downplay their struggle, we are a stumbling block to a real dialogue and path to true justice. It must stop. We must be humble and courageous enough to accept that critique, and, as Peter did, get behind Jesus and follow a path to a more just world. That path is hard, it is dark, and it ultimately leads to the cross. However, as Christians, it is our path.
“Get behind me, Satan!”
How do you come back from that? Like Peter did. Get behind Jesus and humbly walk with God. Like Peter, we need to let Jesus’ love transform us by the renewal of our minds, so we can follow God’s will, what is good and pleasing and perfect.