The last two Sunday readings gave us a quick lesson on papal infallibility. Two Sundays’ ago, Peter declared with divine help that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
This past Sunday, Jesus told the Apostles “that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Acting on his thoughts as an individual, and not as the pope, Peter argued against the idea that Jesus should suffer and die like this. And Jesus’ reaction?
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” -Mathew 16:23.
At first one might think Jesus a little harsh, poor old Peter was just worried about Jesus. How odd it would have seemed if Peter would have responded, “That’s a great idea! How soon can we expect your suffering and death to begin?” As Jesus said, that’s how us humans think.
But, of course, Jesus was correct (He always is). This response by Our Lord states an essential fact – any suggestion that Jesus should alter His Father’s plan or disobey His Father’s will is from Satan. We also see the human nature of Jesus. He does not enjoy suffering anymore that any other human, so He does not want any distractions or temptations to His mission. Then we see how far our thoughts are from the thoughts of God. We avoid suffering to the extent that it alters our way of thinking away from God’s way of thinking. Peter was thinking like a human – avoid suffering whenever possible.
However, there is another way to look at the response Our Lord gave to Peter. Specifically the first sentence, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.” Look at Satan (and sin) not as an obstacle to Jesus fulfilling His mission, but an obstacle to Peter getting to Jesus. Peter is not “hearing” what Jesus wants Peter to hear, because Satan is standing in the way, whispering a human way of thinking into Peter’s ear, so Peter is not understanding correctly what Jesus is saying. Sin does this. Clouds our mind. That is why Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan, you are an obstacle to me”, because in order for Peter, and all of us, to get to Jesus, hear Jesus, understand Jesus and be close to Jesus, Satan (and sin) needs to get out of the way.
So, Jesus has removed the obstacle. He removed it though the very death and resurrection Peter tried to keep Him from doing. Now it is up to us to go to Jesus and listen to Him… and don’t let the obstacle get back in the way.