This passage tells of Jesus leading the disciples into a discussion of what they and others make of him. They respond by saying that some are confused and think he is John the Baptist, escaped from Herod. Others say that he is another Elijah, one who ushers in a new way of thinking, and still others that he is in the line of the later prophets. Jesus pushes further and queries what they themselves think. Perhaps only Peter answers because the others are as yet undecided, but in any case Peter replies that he thinks Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One.
Jesus goes on to attempt to change the direction of their thinking, by showing that rather than any glory or worldly success, he is likely to be misunderstood, tortured and killed. He anticipates that Rome will see him as a traitor, which he is philosophically, if not politically, because he urges others to see the superficial nature of domination and political bullying.
Peter reacts strongly against this, perhaps out of love or fear. And Jesus says to him that he must get behind if he wants to go ahead. Like Satan in the temptation story, Peter is convinced of Jesus’ power to call others to change the world. Satan, whom we might think of as the god of expediency, was dismissed by Jesus as ultimately ineffective. Jesus’ stance shows that empires rise and fall; kings are born and die; wealth is retained in the hands of the few and then blows away like dandelion seeds. For Jesus, the only things that remain are generosity, compassion, sacrifice (in the sense of joyful offering of the self). The price for that may be misunderstanding, pain, and even death, but the reward is open eyes, a sense of purpose and the long view that follows the trajectory of God.
So Peter receives a stern lesson. He can get behind Jesus and follow along in his plan and methods. He can accept that titles and the illusion of safety belong to worldly leaders and governments. He can follow the way of Jesus, that means following the cross in the world, s sign of the way in which suffering and redemption lead to new life. I am always curious if Satan is behind Jesus too. Could it be that the great Prosecutor of Hebrew scripture is actually in the service of the cross. In his role as the tempter, does he feel joy that Jesus refuses his offer?
Which leads me to some contemporary questions. When people of faith are challenged, do we see this as an opportunity for us to decide where we stand? Can we see that the elements of temptation to choose the easier road, or the most efficient method, or what is often presented as common sense, might actually deter us from the vision of Jesus? Can we be misled by our need to define who Jesus is so that we forget the work that we have taken on in his name?
And finally, I wonder if we can see the Tempter as part of how we react as human beings. The Tempter is only demonic and powerful when we Christians are not standing behind Jesus. Do we want to get behind Jesus, his passion, his vision, his hope for us? We may find Satan there, also hoping for redemption, along with all the doubters and second guessers. But none of it matters, along as we trust the one whom we follow. Although he remains largely unnameable for us, slipping from definition to practice, from prisons to freedom without any bars at all.
There is a goodness, a Wisdom that arises, sometimes gracefully, sometimes gently, sometimes awkwardly, sometimes fiercely, but it will arise to save us if we let it, and it arises from within us. like the force that drives green shoots to break the winter ground, it will arise and drive us into a great blossoming like a pear tree, into flowering, into fragrance, fruit, and song . . . into that part of ourselves that can never be defiled, defeated, or destroyed, but that comes back to life, time and time again, that lives -always- that does not die. China Gallard “The Bond Between Women”