22nd Sun [A] 1990

Fr. Charles Irvin

Jeremiah 20:7-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

Today’s Gospel account is completely linked with the part that you heard last weekend when Peter, in response to Christ’s question, stated: “You are the Messiah, the Son of God”. Jesus, for His part, acknowledged that Peter could only say that because God the Father had revealed that to him. Jesus thereupon went on to proclaim Peter the rock upon which His Church would be built and gave him the power of the keys to bind and loose on earth and in heaven.

It would be hard to find a more harmonious and serene moment reported in the entire New Testament. And yet in one, dramatic split second the happiness became sadness, the harmony became hostility, and the friendship became enmity. Jesus hisses at Peter, calling him Satan, and telling him to get out of His sight. Why? Why this sudden and violent response from the One known for His gentle and compassionate spirit?

We can recall some moments when Jesus spoke in anger at the Pharisees, calling them snakes, a brood of vipers, whited sepulchers, hypocrites and liars. But I cannot recall a time when Jesus exploded with more anger on anyone, let alone one of His best and most trusted friends, the very Peter upon which He was to build His entire future efforts. Why, I ask, did Jesus explode all over Peter with such vehemence?

Well, I think it was because Jesus, after a long and painful process of growing awareness, finally came to the realization that He had to go to Jerusalem, into the very heart of the political and religious establishment, and there openly speak the truth about Himself, His Father, and His mission. And Jesus knew, after a lot of thought and experience, that He would end up on a cross, one of the most humiliating and excruciating of ways possible to suffer a long, lingering, and torturous death.

Jesus had just then, just before having this conversation with Peter, come to know the awful truth. At a place called Calvary, just outside the city walls of Jerusalem, human sin, your sins and my sins, would take one of the loveliest lives that ever came to earth, spit on it, crown it with thorns, mock and laugh at it, cut its flesh to ribbons, nail it to a cross, and then stand back, and with curled lips in a mocking smirks, watch life slowly ooze out of it.

You see, Jesus had just then come to know beyond a doubt that this was His destiny, the fate that awaited Him in Jerusalem. And so He had turned to Peter, given Peter everything, placing him in charge of the enterprise. He gave Peter the authority that was proper only to the Christ, the Messiah, promised Peter that the very powers of heaven would belong to him, and then suffered the sickening shock of hearing Peter whisper Satan’s temptation into His ears. It sent an electric shock through the body and soul of Jesus.

You heard Satan’s temptation at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry. Having just been baptized by John in the Jordan and filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus had gone out into the desert to prepare for his future life. There in the desert Satan came to him with the threefold temptation designed to turn Him away from being the sort of Messiah that He knew His Father wanted Him to be. Satan had tried to deflect Him from His destiny. And here, inside of Peter, the one upon whom Jesus had just bestowed everything, here in Peter’s mouth were those very same words and temptations of the Evil One. It was too much for Jesus. One final time we would hear that temptation…. on the Cross. “Come down from the Cross,” the tempters cried, “and we will believe.”

What is the core question involved here? AVOID THE CROSS!!. Avoid the Cross at all costs. We don’t want to see what it stands for. We don’t want to see human suffering hanging on it. We don’t want to see the ultimate price of sin. We don’t want to see the consequences of our prideful choices to do what we want no matter what the cost. We don’t want to face suffering. We don’t want to know that we choose to do can inflict terrible pain on other people and exact a terrible price in human suffering from them.

I heard a story once about a man who went camping in the wilderness. He had with him his faithful dog, a dog that he and grown to love very much over the years. Together they would hike through territories that perhaps no human being had ever ventured upon. On one such excursion a bear suddenly and viciously attacked the man. His beloved and faithful dog came running back to him, and seeing what was happening, leapt to attack the bear’s throat. He was no match for the bear and after a couple of powerful blows from the deadly paws of the bear, was on the ground, torn to ribbons, and bleeding to death. But the distraction was just enough for the man to escape, only to realize that his faithful and loyal dog was dead. Looking back on the experience the man said: “It’s a painful thing to be died for, even by a dog.”

At a place called Calvary, just outside the city walls of Jerusalem, human sin, your sins and my sins, took one of the loveliest lives that ever came to earth, spit on it, crowned it with thorns, mocked it and laughed at it, cut its flesh to ribbons, nailed it to a cross, and then stood back and with curled lips in a mocking smirk, watched life slowly ooze out of it. That was the price that was paid so that you, and hopefully I with you, can live on after we die in a life of everlasting love and happiness. Peter couldn’t admit that it was so. Eventually, however, he did, even to the point of imitating and repeating Christ’s life in his own. But for the time he couldn’t admit that it was so, Jesus in hissing words called him a Satan.

It’s a painful thing to be died for, even by a dog. What is your response to being died for by the loveliest, kindest, most sensitive and gentle life that ever lived? You must respond, you know. Even a non-response is in itself a response. Avoiding religion and the price that it exacts of us is avoiding the Cross with Christ hanging on it. Not allowing your religion to make a real difference in your life is to whisper Peter’s words of avoidance.

It’s a painful thing to be died for. Do you have a response? How does it show itself? In what does it consist? Just what IS your response? For, you see, the dialogue Jesus had with Peter, and the questions He asked of Peter, are the same He’s going to have with you… and ask of you.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”