From being affirmed as the ‘rock on which the Church was to be built’, to being called ‘Satan’, must have been quite a shock to Simon Peter because only a moment ago did Jesus praise Simon Peter and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!” What a turn around and Simon Peter must have been struck dumb upon hearing Jesus’ words.
Interestingly, in the gospels, Peter, on whom Christ was going to build His Church, is the only human person called “Satan”. The use of the word ‘Satan’ on Peter was not done in any derogatory way but used to describe a stumbling block to Jesus fulfilling His mission. After His baptism at the river Jordan, Jesus went into the desert to prepare for His public ministry. It was here that Satan tempts Him in a way to prevent Him from starting His mission, but Jesus did not succumb.
Once Jesus “began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Mt 16:21), it unnerved the disciples. Just like in the desert, Satan schemes all over again to derail Jesus from fulfilling His salvific mission that will be manifested through the cross. Though Peter may have only expressed his affinity and concern for “Christ, the Son of the Living God”, Jesus saw in Peter’s words the diabolically inspired temptation to avoid His going to the cross and dying for the sins of the world and conquer evil.
Naively, Peter and perhaps all the disciples and those who followed, expected Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom. In telling Peter off, Jesus makes it clear that avoiding the suffering and death that awaits Him in Jerusalem, is equivalent to Jesus turning away from His mission and from God. This had been the intention of Satan from the beginning and if Jesus gave in, evil would have triumphed.
Edmund Burke, an Irish statesman and philosopher once said that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Jesus could have quite easily taken the easy path and not choose the road to Jerusalem, knowing very well what awaits Him. In order to triumph over evil, Jesus had to embrace the cross and that means being faithful to the will of His Heavenly Father. The very thing Peter was trying to prevent was the very thing Jesus came to accomplish.
The cross is integral to the Christian identity and that is why Jesus immediately after rebuking Peter tells the disciples “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Mt 16:24). Though the cross can be heavy and challenging, by embracing the cross, we too can deny evil any victory. That is why there is no room for neither indifference nor apathy in Christian discipleship. Many people succumb to this ideology and say… ‘Why should I get involved when it only concerns someone else?’. “If we do not oppose evil, we feed it tacitly” (Pope Francis). Let us be courageous in carrying the cross and consciously counter evil by actively living out charity in the footsteps of Jesus, especially in the carrying out good deeds. Amen.