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Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 28, 2011 (22A)
By Fr. John Foley, S. J.
It seems Jesus is fond of giving names to Simon. This week’s is a big surprise.
In last week’s Gospel Jesus retired the name “Simon” and replaced it with the name Peter.And so I say to you, you are Peter
and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it
At root the name Peter means “rock.” Simon is to be a “Rock,” the foundation of the church.
But, surprise, surprise, the name Jesus gives Peter this week has a different flavor. He actually calls him “Satan” (Gospel). If this name were to stick, Peter would be the leader of the very “netherworld” which Jesus promised could not prevail against the church.
What has happened?
First, it is quite clear that Jesus’ emotional state has changed. He is obviously dreading the suffering and death he tells them he will soon have to face. His rebuke to Peter is so sharp, so instant, so contradictory, that its emotional roots are showing. He knows what a terrible toll human misery and affliction will take on him. He snaps at Peter and even resorts to name-calling.
Second, Jesus had been gradually schooling the disciples about who he really is. Not just a great teacher or magnetic preacher or good friend, but the complete revelation of divine love. They achieved their first high mark last week when Peter said, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”
At this stage, they should be able to understand (begin to understand) what it means for Jesus to be the Christ. Until now he had not spoken a word to them about the crucifixion. So in this week’s Gospel, he shows the real meaning of Christly love: for the good of the world he must suffer greatly under the elders, chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
Do the Apostles get it? The Gospel reports that Peter “rebukes” Jesus. “No, no, no, no, Lord, we will protect you—this will not happen to you, please don’t worry so much. Everything will be ok, you’ll see. We need you to be alive. You are Christ! Use your powers!” It is an impulsive response. Very human. But notice that Peter is telling Jesus to avoid pain by selfish use of his divine powers.
This is just what the devil had recommended in the desert temptations (Matthew 4:1-11)! When Jesus was hungry, Satan’s stealth said, You are Messiah! Why don’t you simply turn some stones into bread? After that, have your angels save you from danger. And then be a real Messiah, be in charge of all the lands there are. Why not?
Because all of this would require bowing down and worshipping Satan.
To put it another way, Jesus would have to act according to the self-seeking, self-interested part of human nature. Go for the wealth, the power and the reputation. Forget Godly love.
Since he was human, Jesus must have felt within himself the rewards that would come with such desert temptations. And he must feel it now as Peter gives him the same enticement. So he reacts strongly. Does he really mean that Peter is Satan? No. But he remembers with pain the devil’s temptations.
No wonder that name slips out.