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Get Behind Me Satan! (22nd Sunday)

You’ve probably seen those quiz shows where contestants view a clip and they have to predict what happens next – often something completely unexpected. Today’s Gospel is a sort of ‘what happens next’ after last week’s passage, when we heard Peter’s impressive profession of faith. We spoke then of how Peter’s new name, meaning ‘rock’, was singularly inappropriate because his character was anything but rock-like. And today we see this in action, how Peter immediately wavered in his faith, how the great rock becomes a stumbling stone.

The most unexpected thing that ‘happens next’, though, isn’t so much Peter’s weakness but the language that Jesus begins to use. He has just been identified as the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah. Surely the moment of victory had now come for Israel! Surely the disciples should now carefully plan their strategy so that Jesus can enter Jerusalem as King. But, to everyone’s surprise, Jesus turns things on their heads. Yes, He will go to Jerusalem, yes His Kingdom is about to come but He speaks of suffering grievously, of being put to death and then raised up on the third day.

When Peter begins to rebuke His Master, Jesus gives him yet another name – He may be the rock but in these moments of weakness he is also ‘Satan’, meaning adversary. That strong saying, ‘Get behind me Satan,’ has a double meaning – ‘get out of my way, you are obstructing me’ but also ‘get behind me and follow me’, an echo of the first words that the Lord addressed to Peter by the Sea of Galilee.

Once again, Peter, the head of the Church, stands for each one of us. How often we react according to our ‘flesh and blood’ and not according to the ways of God; how often we misunderstand the true nature of things. How easy it is to love the Jesus that we think we know, the Jesus of our imagination, our piety, rather than the real Jesus who challenges us and speaks of the cost of love: ‘if any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’

The Lord certainly cannot be accused of false advertising! He offers us eternal life. But the road that we have to travel is not necessarily easy or cosey or pain-free. Tom Wright, the former Anglican bishop of Durham, compares Christian discipleship to Alice Through the Looking Glass, where in order to get somewhere you have to set off in what seems to be the opposite direction. In order to reach happiness, fulfilment, salvation we sometimes have to do things or accept situations we would rather avoid. It’s not always like this but often it is.

Back to our Gospel: what happens next? Peter gets behind the Lord and eventually this stumbling block becomes a foundation stone. What about us? Let us dare to reach our destination by sometimes walking in what looks like the opposite direction. Let us take up our cross and follow the Lord to victory.

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