Following Peter’s declaration, Jesus told the disciples to tell nobody about it for the time being. Jesus knew that the people were not yet ready to accept him for who he really was. The general belief, and hope, was that the Messiah would be an earthly savior: a powerful, maybe political person who would free the people of Israel from foreign domination. The disciples, including Peter, were not exempt from this. So, while still being alone with his disciples, Jesus started to explain to them what type of Messiah he truly was. Rather than using many words, Jesus does this by telling them what he was about to do. This, he tells them, is going to be the programme of your Messiah. He will go to Jerusalem, he will suffer, be killed, and then rise from the dead. The way of this Messiah was an act of total, self-giving love.
Suffering and death was not what those men wanted to hear. Being his spontaneous self, Peter pipes up again and starts rebuking Jesus in no uncertain terms! The Rock, the one who was declared Blessed, the one who had just been given the keys of the kingdom, would have none of this. It was, then, Jesus’ turn to rebuke Peter with a simple, yet very powerful phrase. “Get behind me, Satan!” he tells him. The “rock” which was supposed to be the base of a Church, has now become “Satan” literally meaning a stumbling block, a stone that is in the way hindering someone from moving forward. “Get behind me”, Jesus tells Peter. Before being a rock, before being pope, Peter had to be a disciple. By definition a disciple is one who follows the master, not leading him. Here Peter had tried to tell Jesus what he should be doing, thus reversing the roles.
Let us not be scandalized of Peter. We all go through moments when we become a bit like Peter in our lives. How often do we, in our prayers, tell God to change things, events, or people in our lives! Like Peter we try to tell God that we know better! Peter’s story teaches us that, as disciples, we are supposed to follow Jesus—to let him lead the way, so that we can walk in his footsteps. Jesus’ steps took him to Jerusalem, and eventually up on the Golgotha. It was the greatest act of love, as he told us: there is no greater love, than to lay down ones life for the one you love. No wonder that Jesus then continues to teach the disciples about what being his follower means: it entails carrying the cross and losing one’s life. I know that very often our understanding of “cross” is not what Jesus intended. Speaking of one’s cross, Jesus never had in mind a sickness, a problem, or lack of money. The cross Jesus carried on his shoulders, and the one we are expected to carry, is whatever it takes to live out a life of total self-giving love. Because, ultimately, it is only this that can lead us to real life. It is important to notice that Jesus does not speak only of losing one’s life or of dying. These are not the end but, rather, a means for something better. It is losing one’s life so that we will truly find it, it is dying so that we can experience the joy of the resurrection.
St Paul knew that this is the only way that we can enjoy real life. Being such a down-to-earth person, he also knew that this was not easy. That is why he felt the need to beg his friends in Rome (in today’s second reading) to be “transformed”, to genuinely seek the will of God in their life. Peter needed to go through this kind of transformation. I’m sure most of us need it too.