Spirituality of the Readings

He Began to Teach Them

The Gospel this Sunday describes a major turning point in our lives and those of the disciples. It has to do with names.

1) Jesus gives the name “Peter” to Simon

The disciples are beginning to see that Jesus is much more than just one of the great heroes from the past—John the Baptist, Elijah, the prophets, etc. Jesus asks them. Without hesitation, Peter responds, “You are the Christ.”

Without realizing it, Simon had proclaimed the crucial depth that underlies all Christianity. Jesus was not just a buddy or a healer, as, up to now, they had been thinking. He was the long awaited Messiah ( = Christ).

So now the disciples had fledgling roots in what Jesus was teaching about himself. With this set of roots ho could now go one step further: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly … and be killed, and rise after three days.”

WHAT?

This was the last possible thought the apostles could have had about the Messiah. “Suffer? Be killed? NO, NO!”

2) A second (temporary) name for Simon Peter

The same Simon Peter, who had boldly recognized Jesus as the Christ, suddenly could not digest it. This will never happen to you, master, we will never allow it!

What a contradiction! In response, Jesus flared out at him with anguish and frustration.

Get behind me, Satan. 
You are thinking not as God does, 
but as human beings do.

Satan?

Check out the temptations in the desert for Satan’s ideas (Mt 4:1-11). The devil’s enticements had the same basis as Peter’s do now: save yourself. Do not give up your life for others. Since you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread. Show your power. Be the Christ. You keep talking about your heavenly Father: doesn’t he want you to carry out your mission instead of suffering and dying?

It will take a good while more for the apostles (and us) to understand this. When Christ does finally come to “suffer greatly and be killed” they actually run away! But terrible suffering had been in the scriptural tradition since its beginning. Read about the “Suffering Servant” in the First Reading. What the servant says there gives a model for what will be Jesus’ answer to Peter as well as to the devil.

I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard. ... The Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?

In other words, Jesus had “set his face like flint” toward love’s agony.

• “Simon” had called him “Christ” and therefore Simon could receive the name “Peter.”

• “Simon Peter” was blindly rejecting what Jesus knew to be his true mission, and therefore could be called by the name, “Satan.”

The truth? Jesus must

suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, 
        the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed,
and rise after three days (Gospel).

Surely it must have hurt Jesus to have his mission swept aside by Simon Peter, even in a way meant to be kindly and protective!

Let us try to be with Simon Peter and not with Simon Satan!


John Foley, SJ


**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson