In the gospels, Jesus has been known from time to time to use insulting language, he called people hypocrites, brood of vipers, and once indirectly called a gentile woman a dog, but only here has he ever called someone Satan, and to Peter no less, who just earlier was told that the Church would be founded upon him, and he would be given the keys of the kingdom. What did Peter do to deserve this? After all, he was only looking out for Jesus’ welfare, seeking to keep him safe, like any good disciple would do.
Jesus, for all the healing and joy that he brought to others, made his fair share of enemies. Sometimes when Jesus spoke, especially to the authorities in his day, he upset them, angered them, to the point where they ultimately sought to kill him. This is because Jesus always spoke the truth, and not everyone likes to hear and accept the truth, either about themselves or others.
This was Jeremiah’s struggle in our first reading. Jeremiah spoke at the time when the Israelites had abandoned God, worshipped idols, and were practicing all types of sin. He warned of their destruction unless they turned from their ways, that God was waiting for them to turn their hearts back to him. We hear of his weariness. He had experienced great ridicule and at times physical abuse at the hands of those he was trying to save. He wants to stop, yet he is compelled to keep preaching the truth.
That is because there is evil in the world that must be addressed, and Jesus was sent to confront and deliver us from that evil. Evil, to be defeated, must be recognized, confronted, and replaced by love and truth. God has provided that through his Son Jesus, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the many gifts he has bestowed upon his Church. The Church’s mission is to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, and to promote his teachings, both the easy and the difficult ones.
But the Church and her members can be tempted to take shortcuts, or worse, no longer take responsibility for her mission. Last week Jesus chose Peter as the rock, the foundation upon which that Church would be built. And what do we see Peter doing in today’s gospel, just moments later? Peter thinks he can have it both ways, preaching the message of Christ, and at the same time being safe from all resistance and persecution that may follow.
If Peter was to get his way, Jesus would have to stop speaking, stop pointing out wrongdoing, stop standing up for the poor and marginalized, he would have to deny who he is and why he was sent. But Jesus, the Word made Flesh, cannot be silenced.
Whenever one stands up for the truth, there is always some type of resistance. The devil would rather us stay silent, to not resist him and be indifferent. And when the Church or her members fail to address the evils of the world, she fails in the mission given to her by Christ. Jesus calls Peter ‘Satan’ precisely because his thinking would cause the Good News to be silent, it would allow evil to continue unchallenged.
Jesus is well aware of the risks involved in preaching his message, the trials that not only he will endure, but anyone who seeks to live and spread that same message. But he carries on anyway because his mission is motivated by his great love of the Father, and his great love for all of us. For us who are Christians, or anyone who may wish to follow Christ, we must put aside some of our own personal desires, to serve God and to serve one another. And that means being willing to take up the cross.
Our own crosses can be many things. The daily grind of life, physical illness, financial troubles, family troubles, the worries of a virus and social/political unrest, or even just little things going wrong. And on top of all that is our efforts to live our Christians lives and the gospel values in a world hostile to it. But when we do carry a cross, it is never alone, for Christ allows us to endure, to ease us on our journey. We know that he will always be with us, because Jesus didn’t listen to Peter, and instead, accepted the trials that came with preaching the truth and the good news, and upon that cross, he won for us our redemption and our salvation, to everlasting life with God in heaven.
Because it is through the cross that evil is conquered, that Satan is defeated, and that the peace of Christ can be felt and experience here on earth. There is no reason to fear, for those men and women who took up the cross of Christ still lived lives of joy, because Christ was with them through it all, and whatever cross we carry, we too can experience that peace and joy.