We were in class one morning, as seminarians. Our Moral Theology Professor, a Monsignor, came into the classroom and he said, “My dear seminarians, what is the easiest way to Heaven?” None of us answered his question, so he said, “The easiest way to Heaven is the Catholic priesthood. Become a Catholic priest, and you will have all it takes to go to heaven.” We were very happy to hear that since we were seminarians training to become priests. But he did not stop there, he asked another question: “What is the easiest way to Hellfire?” We had no answer for him, so he said, “The easiest way to Hellfire is the Catholic priesthood. Become a Catholic priest and it becomes easier for you to go to hell.” Reading the confusion on our faces, he went on to explain, “In the Catholic priesthood, you have all that it takes to make it to heaven. You are the minister of the word and the sacraments. However, the wrong use of these privileges can lead you away from Heaven.”
My dear friends, we are picking up the story in the Gospel passage from where we stopped last Sunday. Peter successfully identified Jesus as the Messiah and he got the thumbs up from Jesus last Sunday. Today, Peter, who was called “Rock” last Sunday, is told, “Get behind me, Satan!” Today’s passage began 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.”
Peter got the answer right last Sunday by identifying Jesus as the Messiah. After getting the identity right, the next step was to get the implication of the identity. That was when he failed. Jesus then said to him, “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus did not only tell him to get behind, but he called him Satan. This does not seem right. How can Jesus call his apostle Devil? How can he call the first pope Demon? 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 he was describing what Peter was doing. Remember, last Sunday, Jesus called him the Rock upon which he would build his Church. However, when Peter began to discourage Jesus from going to Jerusalem to redeem us, Jesus had to make him realize that his job description as Rock was to be the foundation of the Church, and not to go ahead to stop Jesus from going to Jerusalem. By standing in the way of Jesus, 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 and take up his proper position as foundation Rock. 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. 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 was behind the Master and not ahead of the Master, for he was called to follow Jesus and not to go ahead of Jesus. 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 Peter, the first Pope, could fall into the temptation of playing Satan just shortly after he was “elected” Pope, then we must be careful, for we can also fall like him. Whenever we begin to teach God how He should run things, we become Satan. Whenever we decide to play roles that are contrary to our divinely issued identity, we become Satan. You may have the best talent in the world, but if you do not make the right use of it, you may run into trouble. So my dearly beloved in Christ, as we reflect on the story of Peter today, we think about ourselves and our various relationships. As a wife, a husband, a sibling, a child, a parent, a friend, an employer, an employee, a teacher, a student, etc, am I a foundation stone or an obstacle? Do I support others in achieving that for which God has created them? Am I in the way of my friend’s progress or am I the reason for my friend’s failure? May God grant us the grace to realize our true identity and the grace to carry out our responsibility in line with the demands of that identity, until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.