Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
First reading: Jer 20:7-9
Responsoral Psalm: 63:2-6, 8-9
Second reading: Rom 12:1-2
Gospel: Mt 16:21-27
By Kevin Perrotta
“Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly. … Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, ‘God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you'” (Mt 16:21-22).
It has often been pointed out that Peter’s response to Jesus is self-contradictory. He calls Jesus “Lord” but tells him what to do.
Yet Peter is making good sense. He says to Jesus what every spouse thinks when husband or wife is deployed or goes off to a shift of police work. “God forbid anything happen to you!”
Peter doesn’t want anything bad to happen to Jesus any more than any of us would want something dreadful to happen to our favorite high school coach or the woman who mentored us at the beginning of our career or the guy who supervised our apprenticeship.
Jesus, however, doesn’t welcome Peter’s opposition as an expression of friendship. He jumps all over Peter. “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me” (Mt 16:23).
Jesus knows that his mission to rescue men and women from sin and death can be accomplished only by the gift of his life on a cross. And he is determined not to let anything or anyone get in his way, even — perhaps especially — his friends.
Does he come down so hard on Peter because the alternative Peter indicates — forgo the cross — is so tempting?
But Peter isn’t concerned only about Jesus. He is concerned about himself.
The logic of Jesus’ declaration about what lies ahead of him is instantly clear to Peter. To follow a teacher and guide who is going to let himself to be put to death can only mean accepting death for oneself. And God forbid that should happen to Peter!
Jesus immediately responds to Peter’s unspoken thoughts. “Whoever wishes to come after me,” he says, “must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24).
“Whoever wishes to come after me.” Another translation is, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine” (New Jerusalem Bible).
Just before this conversation, Jesus had asked Peter, “Who am I?” and Peter answered straight out, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus commended him for his discovery (Mt 16:15-17).
Now Peter faces a further question. Who is Jesus for Peter? What importance does Jesus have for Peter? Is Jesus central to his life — so that he would follow him wherever he might lead?
What does Peter want? Is being with Jesus at any cost his deepest desire?
What about you, reader: Where do you stand? What do you want? Who is Jesus for you?
What is your greatest desire in life? What connection does it have with Jesus?
Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series (Loyola Press), teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.