Deacon Jerry Franzen at Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption
Isaiah 50:5-9 James 2: 14-18 Mark 8: 27-35
We hear today’s Gospel story each year.
It appears in some form
in each of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Jesus, first, wanted to check out the disciples, his closest friends,
to see what they thought of him.
He questioned them, “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter gave the correct answer, “You are the Christ.”
Jesus told the disciples what will happen to him,
their Messiah, their “Christos” in Greek.
Then Peter rebuked Jesus; “to rebuke” means “to criticize.”
This rebuke by Peter was apparently his attempt to correct Jesus.
You might ask, “Why did Peter rebuke Jesus?”
After all, Jesus was clearly the leader,
and Peter should have been the dutiful follower.
Who did he think he was to tell the Master that He was wrong?
Peter did have a certain tendency to speak his mind at times.
Jesus, then, rebuked or corrected Peter and
called out to Satan in or through Peter.
I don’t think that He was actually calling Peter, “Satan.”
He directly told Satan to get behind him,
and told Peter, and the others present
to stop thinking like a human beings
and to start thinking like God.
That could be tough – to know the mind of God.
I see three questions raised in progression by this Gospel reading:
“Why did Peter feel that he had to correct Jesus?”
“Why did Jesus address Satan when he corrected Peter?”
And “What does it mean to think like God?
What if Jesus came to each of us and asked ,
“Who do YOU say that I am?”
We might have to search for an answer but, hopefully,
we would come up with one similar to Peter’s.
This was one of Peter’s shining moments,
and hopefully it would be one of ours as well.
Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ,
the one anointed to save God’s people.
Hopefully all of us, gathered here at this Mass,
acclaim Jesus as the Messiah, Our Savior.
All of the Jews, including Peter, were expecting a powerful Messiah,
one who would raise up an army and free the Jewish people
from the oppression of the Roman Empire,
the current member of a long list of nations
that had, in some way, oppressed the Israelites.
But then Jesus ruined this lovely picture.
Peter picked up on the suffering, rejection, and being killed,
but probably did not “get”
the part about rising on the third day.
He probably ignored that last part and focused on the other parts.
After all, how could those awful things happen to someone
who was to be triumphant over the Roman oppression?
What kind of a ridiculous kingdom
is built on the broken Body of a defeated Messiah?
What Jesus was saying was just the opposite of the traditional image
that the Israelite nation had
of what their Messiah would be like.
The disciples would have to learn, with some difficulty,
that the victory was not to be over the Romans;
it was to be the victory over the suffering,
the rejection and the death of sin.
Jesus did not want the word of his being the Messiah
spread around at this time in his ministry, because
more people than just the disciples would have these
same incorrect expectations of Him.
He knew that all would be revealed to the people in good time.
Why did Jesus bring Satan into the picture?
It would seem that Peter was trying to convince Jesus
that He, Jesus, could bring about the kingdom
without His suffering, rejection and death.
Peter probably realized that
if Jesus would have to suffer, be rejected and die,
then his nearest followers would meet that same fate.
But why bring Satan into the picture here?
*Could it be that Jesus was referring back
to His previous encounter with Satan –
the one where he was tempted three times by Satan?
Remember that incident?
Turn these stones into bread because you are hungry.
Throw yourself down from the tower and God will save you.
Bow to me and I will give you power over all nations.
The first amounted to the temptation to do all we can
to fulfill all our earthly hungers.
The second represented the temptation to presume God’s will and favor
to be in accord with our will.
The third meant the temptation to do whatever is necessary
to have all power.
We don’t know from this account what Peter said to Jesus,
but it certainly could be that he was trying to convince Jesus
to bring about His kingdom by way of “human thinking,”
by creating wealth to satisfy all of the physical needs
of the people,
by exerting His authority over God’s will and favor,
and by extolling His fame from gaining power over all.
What more could a person, and his closest friends, want?
Truly Jesus was seeing Satan acting through Peter,
and he was addressing Satan directly,
“Get behind me, Satan.”
Jesus was saying, “Get out of here! I have already dealt with you.
We have already fought this battle. And I have won.
This is not going to play out according to your plan!”
So where are we in this story?
We are definitely Peter and the disciples in three aspects:
1. We must know that Jesus is the Messiah and act accordingly.
Praise Him every day, thank Him for every day
and follow his will.
2. We must resist the temptations of Satan. How do we do that?
**Coyotes have been a problem for sheep ranchers out in Montana.
It seemed that no matter how well the sheep were guarded,
the coyotes found ways to steal and kill lambs.
Then one of the shepherds discovered llamas.
The llama is a funny-looking,
aggressive and afraid-of-nothing animal.
When llamas see something of interest,
they raise their heads and walk straight for it.
A coyote recognizes this as aggressive behavior
and will have nothing to do with it.
Coyotes are opportunists, and llamas take away
the opportunity to attack a herd.
Apparently llamas know the truth of what James wrote in his letter:
“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (4:7)
We must tell Satan to get behind us, as Jesus did.
3. We, like Peter and the disciples, must think as God does.
The path to God’s kingdom is not one that
fulfills our every desire for pleasure,
gives us the authority over all
and is littered with all the signs of our fame and fortune.
That would be thinking like a human being.
Jesus is challenging us like he challenged Peter and the disciples
to think like God – to deny ourselves,
to take up our cross and to follow Him.
We must deny ourselves, that is not give in to every desire.
To practice self-denial
for that bigger house,
for that better-paying job,
for that bigger spread at the table
is to be better ready for leaner times in God’s plan,
when denial is not self-imposed.
We must take up our crosses, not just leave them lying someplace.
To take up the cross
of providing more support for the poor,
of spending more time visiting relatives,
of forgiving someone who has hurt us,
is to be better prepared to bear the crosses in God’s plan
that we have no control over.
We must follow the path of Jesus, not that presented by Satan.
***I’ll leave you with this little piece on dealing with temptation
and the path of Satan written by Portia Nelson entitled,
“Autobiography in Five Short Chapters.”
Chapter 1: I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in.
I am lost….. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
Chapter 2: I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again, I can’t believe that I am in the same place,
but it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
Chapter 3: I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there.
I still fall in…. It’s a habit. My eyes are open.
I know where I am. It is my fault and I get out immediately.
Chapter 4: I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
Chapter 5: I walk down another street.
*John W Martens in “The Things of God” America, August 31-September 7, 2015 p 42
** Craig Brian Larson, “750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, teachers and Writers” Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI p 570 # 713
*** Ibid p 569 # 713