by Father Mike Stubbs
Of all the apostles, Peter stands out most strongly in terms of his personality.
He clearly comes across as stubborn and impulsive in the Gospels. That is who he is. Those personality traits can either hold him back or make him go forward, depending on what direction they are headed in.
In Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mt 16:21-27, Peter explodes at Jesus’ prediction of his passion and death: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
In response, Jesus points out the negative nature of Peter’s outburst: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.”
The Greek word translated as “obstacle” can also mean “stumbling block.” It is the same word that gives us the English word “scandal.” In using the word “stumbling block,” Jesus is making a veiled reference to an earlier statement he made to Peter.
Previously, as we heard in last week’s Gospel reading, Mt 16:13-20, Jesus called Peter the foundation stone of his church: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”
At the heart of it all, a foundation stone and a stumbling block are the same thing. They are both rock. They differ only in the position they are placed in and in the use to which they are put.
Peter can either be a stumbling block or a foundation stone. His personal weakness is the flip side of his strength. It all depends on his decision.
Will he get in Jesus’ way, or will he support Jesus? Can he convert his innate stubbornness into loyalty toward Jesus?
Twice in the Gospel reading, Jesus talks about someone getting behind him. In his reprimand to Peter, he says, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Then, later, Jesus says to the disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself.”
The same Greek phrase appears in both, which is translated the first time as “behind me” and then the second time as “after me.”
In other words, Jesus’ reprimand to Peter anticipates his invitation to the disciples for them to follow him. In both cases, they are to get behind Jesus.
Jesus issues the same challenge to us as he did to Peter and to the disciples. Will we support Jesus, or get in his way? Will we be part of the problem, or part of the solution? It is all up to us. And that decision will make all the difference in the world:
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”