Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Mark 8:33.
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Today’s gospel contains possibly the most remarkable scene in all scripture. Jesus had just stated that he will go to Jerusalem where total disaster, pain, torture and death await him. Peter is flabbergasted. Impossible! Here is the Savior, the long-awaited Messiah! This cannot be. And he lets rip on the Lord, only be to compared to Satan! And Peter, only a few breaths before, had recognized him as the Messiah in their midst. This did NOT fit into Peter’s idea of the Messiah, the Anointed of God, for whom the Jewish people had been waiting for, literally, centuries. No, something was not right. Peter expected Jesus to be acclaimed as the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, in Jerusalem, and the whole nation would rise to welcome him and the new Kingdom of David would rise to world dominance…. And Peter was not alone in this expectation. Over the centuries, the Jewish people had developed their idea of what kind of person the Messiah would be, and almost universally it was a picture of a conquering hero, expelling the pagan Roman occupation forces, re-establishing the Kingdom of David, and creating an Israel of God worthy of the name.
Jesus, in the days after his baptism, where it was revealed that this was the Messiah, and the Son of God, contemplated in the wilderness what exactly that all meant. The picture revealed to him at that time was of a Messiah who would suffer and be killed, based on Holy Scripture itself. The first reading today was clearly part of this formulation. This Messiah would give his back to those who beat him, his cheeks to those who plucked his beard, his face he did not shield from buffets and spitting… That did not fit into the popular view of the Messiah, but Jesus clearly thought that such passages were prophecies of what this man had to expect, and anyone who thought otherwise, including Peter, was of the enemy. It is THE reason Jesus insisted on as much secrecy as possible during his ministry, as he did not want to be carried into Jerusalem as the conquering hero until he was ready. In other words, until he had completed his mission, trained his followers, and prepared them as much as possible as to what was going to happen (seen in today’s gospel). Only then would all the prophecies found in Scripture, including the negative, be fulfilled. It would be safe to say that only Jesus himself held the notion of a Suffering Servant Messiah, a picture it seems no-one else had at that time.
That might be the reason the passage from the Epistle of James is read today. He asks what good is faith without the accompanying actions which put it into play? Jesus applied that expectation to such passages as today’s first reading. Isaiah prophesied a Suffering Servant, which Jesus took as a model for the Messiah, one who accepted both the good and the bad. So here was the One who made the blind see and the lame walk, but who would also endure insults and abuse. Here was the One who took all the prophesies of the Messiah, positive and negative, actually lived them, and who was killed as a consequence. Only after the ultimate divine blessing, when Jesus conquered even death, the ultimate enemy, was it clear that he had been right; his broad interpretation of the Messiah found in Scripture, was in fact the Messiah of God. In that way he gave us the perfect model of how to deal with life’s ups and downs, not to give up hope, but to strengthen hope, not to despair but to do as Jesus did, and put one’s entire trust in God who alone understands how good can come from evil, and even life from death. In that way we can be true followers of the Lord, unlike poor Peter who thought he knew better, but ultimately followed in the Lord’s footsteps to the bitter end, and entered upon eternal happiness and peace. We are invited to do the same, whatever might happen to us, so that we are prepared to be true apostles in good times and in bad.
Saints Peter and John Healing the Lame Man, Poussin 1655, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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