Psalm 102:16-18, 19-21, 29, 22-23
“[Jesus] began to teach them
The words of Jesus to Peter are very strong. “Get behind me, Satan.” Why would Jesus speak this way to Peter? Surely Peter was just looking out for Jesus. What is Jesus saying to Peter? What is Jesus saying to us today?
Let’s examine Jesus’ statement, “Get behind me, Satan” from two perspectives: the first is seen through the image of the Cross; the second is seen through the image of the Incarnation.
For the first glimpse into Christ’s words, I invite you and myself to be in the imagination of our hearts with Mary as she looks on her son carrying the cross. We might also consider God, the Father, looking down on his beloved son who has said yes to dying for us. What is in Mary’s heart? What is in the heart of the Father? Utter love, a heart being “pierced,” deep anguish. As we contemplate further, we might also be aware of Mary’s encouragement of Jesus, of the Father’s strengthening Jesus to be able to say “yes”, and Mary’s deep peace that comes from knowing that this act of love of Jesus for each of us will bring about life. Mary and the Father “permit” Jesus to die. I once heard a homily that focused on Mary’s words to Jesus as she saw him on his way to Calvary. The homilist proposed that Mary said to Jesus, “You can do it.” This rings true for Mary’s love is free. Amidst her heart that breaks, she knows deep down that Jesus has been “called” by God to lay down his life for us. That Jesus follows the Father’s will provides her deep peace. She believes that God, in his providence, will not let death prevail.
For each of us, we know this in our experience in many ways. For those of you who are parents, you know this sacrifice when your child chooses a career that requires great personal sacrifice; you know it when your daughter or son chooses to participate in a service trip that places him or her in danger. For those of you who are students, you know this sacrifice when you would rather blow off studying but you persevere; you know it when you encourage a friend to pursue a career where she or he feels drawn to it even though, in the eyes of the world, it seems foolish. For each of us we know this sacrifice every time we choose, or encourage someone we love to choose, a “greater good” that requires sacrifice. The irony is that we know our deepest joy here. When we give of ourselves for another, we know the joy of being who we are called to be. Jesus’ words, “Get behind me, Satan” dispel the lie that choosing the easier way will bring us happiness.
The second perspective, much more subtle, is seen through the Incarnation, God choosing to join us in our humanity. How do we know what is of God? As 1 John 4: 2 states, “This is how you can know the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God.” Satan is often referred to as “the enemy of our human nature.” Everything that rejects our humanity is not of God. We see this rejection of ourselves in countless instances: when we are harsh with ourselves for making a mistake; when we criticize ourselves or another for not being able to do something to make suffering or incompleteness go away; when we ignore what breaks our hearts, what makes us sad, what causes us pain; when we beat up ourselves for our human weakness (not moral weakness). We subtly are harsh with ourselves by ignoring the struggles that are the essence of our humanity. Our culture tells us we should be in charge, we should have it all under control, and if we can’t succeed (in the world’s eyes), there’s something wrong with us. Here is where Jesus tells us to say, “Get behind me, Satan.” The enemy of our human nature wants us to deny our human weakness, our fragility and our dependence on God. God’s desires for us and our deepest desires are to be with Jesus in our humanity relying on the providence of God always eager to care for us—if we let Him.
Let us, then, with full voice, join with Jesus to say, “Get behind
me, Satan” to encourage ourselves and those we love to choose the greater
good and to have the courage to be weak with Christ.
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