22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON AUGUST 30, 2020 (R. 1: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63:2,3-4,5-6,8-9; R. 2: Romans 12:1-2; Gospel: Matthew 16:21-27)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
REPOSITIONING THE ROCK
A man sent the following text message to his wife one Monday morning: “Sweetheart, I am sorry, I am sending you this text message instead of calling you as I earlier promised. On my way to work this morning, I had a terrible accident, and my car is destroyed beyond recognition. Thank God I am alive, but I broke both of my legs, I broke one arm, I have some bruises on my face and a deep cut on my lower lip, which makes it difficult for me to talk. I thank God that Jessica called 911 in good time, and she even accompanied me to the hospital. I will text you the address of the hospital in a moment. Kisses! Love you dearly!” His wife immediately replied his text message in three words, “Who is Jessica?”
We are picking up the story in the Gospel passage from where we stopped last Sunday. Peter successfully identified Jesus as the Messiah and Jesus praised him; Jesus gave him the thumbs up. Peter who was called “Rock” last Sunday, gets thumbs down today as he is told, “Get behind me, Satan!” Today’s passage begins with Jesus telling his disciples that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Peter then rebuked Jesus saying, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Really? Did Peter actually take his time to listen well to Jesus? Did he get the whole “gist”? It seems he only got the aspect that was of interest to him and he reacted based on that, just like the wife in our opening story, who got an entire text message from her husband about the accident he was involved in, but all that she wanted to know was, “Who is Jessica?”
Jesus had said that the journey to Jerusalem was a “must do,” which means that it was non-negotiable. He also added that after the suffering and death, there was going to be resurrection. I guess Peter did not pay attention to the fact that going to Jerusalem for Jesus was a done deal, and that it was not within Peter’s power to change the narrative. It seems he was not attentive to the victorious resurrection ahead, he only heard the suffering and death, and he flared up. He got it right last Sunday, but it was supposed to be a full package. The first part of the package is the identity of Jesus, while the second part is the implication of the identity. Peter got the first part right because he was attentive to the spirit of the Father in heaven. But today, he took matters into his hands regarding the implication of the identity (going to Jerusalem to suffer, to die and be raised from the dead), and so he got himself into trouble.
Jesus did not just tell him to get behind, but he called him Satan. This does not seem right. How can Jesus call his apostle Demon? How can he call the first pope Devil? We have to be careful here in our use of those terms. They are not as interchangeable as we tend to use them today. The Hebrew word ןטָשָּׂ satan, or the Arabic word شيطان shaitan is not a proper name as such, but more of a description and it means “adversary” or “enemy” or “astray.” Jesus was not giving Peter a new name, Satan, rather Jesus was telling him the description of what he was doing. Remember that last Sunday, he was called the Rock upon which Jesus was going to build his Church, but when Peter began to discourage Jesus from going to Jerusalem to redeem us, Jesus had to make him realize that as Rock, he was to be the foundation of the Church, but by going ahead to stop Jesus from going to Jerusalem, he was changing his function from foundation stone to a stumbling block, an adversary or an enemy. For this reason, Jesus had to order him to get behind. While in front of Jesus, he was Satan (stumbling-block, enemy or adversary); to become a foundation Rock, he had to be behind Jesus. Remember, the devil began as an angel of light (Lucifer), it was only after the devil wanted to go ahead of God that he became Satan.
“Get behind me, Satan!” was also a way of Jesus reminding Peter of his letter of employment and his job description. At the call of the apostles, Jesus said to each of them, Δεῦτε ὀπίσω μου, καὶ ποιήσω ὑμᾶς ἁλιεῖς ἀνθρώπων (Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men). By telling Peter to get behind, Jesus was reminding him that the proper place of the disciple is behind the Master and not ahead of the Master, for he was called to “Follow me”. When the disciple follows the Master, he learns, but when the disciple goes ahead of the Master, he becomes an enemy, an adversary, a stumbling-block or Satan.
My dearly beloved in Christ, if the first Pope (Peter), could fall into the temptation of playing Satan just shortly after he received his letter of appointment as Pope, then we must be careful, for we can also fall like him. The higher you go, and the holier you think you are becoming, the more careful you need to be because the devil easily takes advantage of our success to bring us down. Whenever we begin to teach God how to be God, we become Satan. Whenever we decide to play roles that are contrary to our divinely given identity, we become Satan.
Concerning the relationship between husband and wife, St. Augustine says, “If God wanted to make woman the master of man, he would have created her out of his head; if he wanted to make her the slave of man, he would have created her out of his feet; but he created her, according to the Bible, out of his side, to show that she had to be a companion to man; for it was not good, God said, for man to be alone.” Therefore, if a wife changes from a companion to a Master, she becomes Satan. Similarly, God chose to create woman out of man’s side that man might be the protector and defender of woman. If the man decides to strike or beat his wife with the same hand that is meant to protect her, he becomes Satan.
Each one of us is a Rock. Sometimes, a rock can be a foundation stone, and other times, a stumbling block. In our relationships with one another, it is important today to ask, “Am I a foundation stone or a stumbling block?”