Some Gospel texts become more familiar to us because we hear them more often in homilies at church or on other occasions of special prayer. Today’s dialogue between Jesus and Peter is one such text. After the disciples offer Jesus some opinions which the crowds have about Jesus, Jesus asks them “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter boldly answers, “You are the Messiah.” This testimony acknowledges something special about Jesus. However, because of the secular understanding of that title in the political climate of the time, Jesus needed to redefine the meaning of that term for Peter.
Jesus does so by speaking about the certainty of physical suffering, and even the assassination that he will face. When Peter rejected this harsh assessment of Jesus’ future, Jesus vividly points out what is wrong with Peter’s way of thinking. “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
We should not think too harshly of Peter because he is not the only disciple who prefers a “gospel of victory” rather than a “gospel of the cross.” Even we who know that the resurrection restored Jesus’ life after his crucifixion often prefer that our own lives ‘in Christ’ might also somehow evade the implications of his cross. We too would rather avoid the “cross” that goes with being a disciple of Jesus in a modern society which often lacks esteem for the values which faith in Jesus asks of us.
Maybe that is why so many preachers focus on this text. Honest preachers are always talking to themselves as well as to their congregations. They are admitting to themselves that Jesus’ call to take up our cross daily and follow him is a costly but necessary task for every Christian. Knowing that even the disciples, who had the privilege of walking with Jesus in Galilee, struggled with that gospel principle could be an encouragement to us. We are those who have not seen the risen Lord but still believe.
Paul Zilonka is Director of Formation for the Passionist Community in Chicago, Illinois