When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
Peter was an ordinary working man, but Jesus saw so much more in him than the ‘normal’ and the ‘humdrum’. Jesus saw a man of great faith and he called him into a life of discipleship. Peter responded to that call without hesitation but, as well as being a faithful disciple, he remained an ordinary working man. Peter’s life in the company of Jesus’ disciples reached a high point in today’s reading. His declaration that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, was greeted with Jesus’ declaration that Peter would be the rock on which I will build my Church. Then comes another statement about Peter, one that must have shaken him to the core. In response to Peter’s disputing Jesus’ declaration of what lay ahead, he heard the Messiah, the Son of the living God say: Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.
We know, from our reading of scripture, that Peter often got it wrong. He was a very ‘human’ man, someone who blundered his way through life. Despite his faith and his commitment to Jesus, he made a whole series of mistakes. We, like Peter, also make mistakes when it comes to living the life of a faithful disciple. In today’s reading, Jesus lays before his disciples the road map he is following, a road map that will lead through ignominious death to the glorious moment of resurrection. Surely, Peter’s hearing must have failed him as he declared that Jesus had got it wrong! Are we witnessing his shock and horror at hearing of Jesus’ imminent death? Are we witnessing the very human failure of only listening to part of the story?
For all his human weakness, Peter did become the rock upon which the Church of Christ was built, and we are the heirs of that legacy. We are the ones called to not only preserve the Church, but to build upon the firm foundations we have inherited. The universal Church of Christ, no matter what its denomination, often feels as though it is besieged, just as it regularly reports a state of crisis and decline. The reality is that the Church grew out of persecution. The early Church was small but in its faithful response to Christ’s teaching it grew and grew. Of course, there have been bleak times. During those times human beings have been the stumbling blocks which have prevented its flourishing. Our human need to show how ‘wise’ we are, has prevented the divine wisdom to shine through. The challenge in today’s reading is for us to come to Christ in all humility, and to listen to the full story.
We are called to hear and spread the Good News that was (and is) the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are called to lay ourselves bare to the wisdom of God and to stop putting ourselves in his place. We are called, in our human frailty, to be like Peter: open, honest, humble and faithful, even when we get it wrong. Let us pray for the humility to do just that.