Homily – 22nd Sunday A Ordinary time 20017 – Fr H Kingsley Etoh
Just last week, we heard Peter confessing that Jesus was the Messiah. And because of that, he was blessed by our Lord.
Here we are today, barely five verses later in the same gospel, and Jesus is referring to Peter as Satan, the stumbling block, attempting to separate Him from the will of the Father.
Can any of us here actually blame Peter? Not at all! When he confessed Jesus as the Messiah, he was surely speaking in the power of the Holy Spirit. But did he really understand what he was saying?
He knew what the Messiah was supposed to be like. The prophets had said that the Messiah would be someone who would save the nation of Israel from her enemies and who would restore justice and peace on earth. In Peter’s mind, this did not rhyme with what Jesus had just said.
Jesus had told the disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem, undergo great suffering and be killed at the hands of the leaders of Israel. This is one of those times when I can really get inside Peter’s head and heart. He must have been thinking, “What!” “You must be joking! I know you are the Messiah, but what kind of justice and vindication do you think you can bring to Israel by dying?”
We can now understand why Peter reacted the way he did. But how did Jesus react to Peter’s reaction? He told him, “Get behind me, Satan!” This is the strongest rebuke Jesus ever used in the Gospels. And He used it on the one on whom He had just bestowed the ultimate compliment and to whom He had promised the greatest of power on earth: the power to bind and loose – the power of the keys.
Satan, the great tempter, is known for putting the straightforward way in front of people, so that they might turn from the work that God has given them to do. That was precisely what Peter did to Jesus. He tempted Him to abandon the hard road that the Father had given Him to travel and to take the straightforward way.
All of us who are hearing this gospel today must be careful that we don’t fall into the same trap Peter did. All of us know that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, but like Peter, we tend to deny that fact when it is easier or more enticing to follow the well-paved road.
Nowadays, the Tempter uses the mass media and people around us to distract us from our goal in life. He tries to convince us that our destinies are in our own hands and that we can ensure our own happiness and well-being by working harder, earning more, getting additional power and prestige and caring most deeply about our appearance.
These are just examples and they are not dissimilar from what Satan offered Jesus in the wilderness. The difference is that they are only phrased in second millennium terms.
But let us not forget one thing. Each time Jesus was tempted, he looked inside, where He knew that the Holy Spirit lived, and drew the strength to resist temptation and continue with the mission the Father had given Him. We need to do the same.
In today’s Gospel story, the temptation must have been incredible! But instead of responding with total agreement to Peter, our Lord responded with a call to radical discipleship.
Rather than saying, “OK, Peter, you’re right,” Jesus says, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it.”
This incredible call to radical discipleship is the absolute opposite of what Peter has tempted Jesus with. He is saying: Come with me and suffer for the sake of the Kingdom, there you will find your life.
I think what Jesus wants is for us to begin to deny the temptations of the world, just as He did — hard though it may be. He wants us to put the Gospel message first in our lives. To worry first about loving the Lord our God and our neighbour as ourselves and to worry second about how much glory, how many possessions we have in this world.
For us, this means a sacrificial lifestyle. We all need to look and see where Jesus is calling us to sacrifice something. What I need to sacrifice as an individual is certainly different from you have to sacrifice. But each and every one of us must sacrifice something.
In the long run, this will determine whether we are a stumbling block or a stepping stone. And the choice is for us to make.
Sometimes we will get it right, some other times we will get it wrong. But let us not be deterred.
Let us ask God in this Mass for the grace to be true disciples of his Son.