Reflection: The Need for More Silence

Friday, Sept. 1, 2023

What’s in a Name?

This week, Peter is in for a big surprise.

In last week’s Gospel Jesus retired the name “Simon” and replaced it with the name Peter.

And so I say to you, you are Peter
and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it
(Mt 16:18).

We heard that, at root, the name Peter meant “rock.” Simon is to be the “Rock,” the foundation of the church.

Notice that Peter is telling Jesus to avoid pain by selfish use of his divine powers.

Surprise, surprise, Jesus gives Peter a different name this week, and it has a very different flavor: he calls him “Satan” (Gospel).

"Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

If this name were to stick, Peter would be the leader of the very “netherworld,” the one that Jesus promised could never prevail against the church.

Peter’s entreaty is just what Satan had recommended in the desert temptations of Christ (Matthew 4:1-11)! When Jesus was hungry, Satan had said, stealthily, you are Messiah—why don’t you simply turn these stones into bread? After that, have your angels save you from all danger. And then, be a real Messiah, be in charge of all the lands there are. Why not?

Because all of this would require bowing down and worshipping Satan. What is going on?

First, it is quite clear that Jesus’ emotional state has changed.

He is obviously dreading the suffering and death he will soon have to face. His rebuke to Peter is so sharp, so instant, so contradictory, that its emotional roots are showing. He knows what a terrible toll human misery and affliction will take on him. He snaps at Peter and even resorts to name-calling.

Second, Jesus had been gradually schooling the disciples about who he really is. Not just a great teacher, or good friend, or magnetic preacher, but the complete revelation of divine love. They had achieved their first high mark last week when Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Gospel, 21 Ord A 20)

This week Jesus shows the real meaning of Christly love: for the good of the world he must suffer greatly and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

Do the Apostles get it? No they do not. The Gospel reports that now Peter “rebukes” Jesus. Something like this:

No, no, no, no, Lord, we will protect you—this will not happen to you, please don’t worry so much. Everything will be ok, you’ll see. We need you to be alive. You are the Christ! We need you to use your powers!

It is an impulsive response. Very human. But notice that Peter is telling Jesus to avoid pain by selfish use of his divine powers.

To put it another way, Jesus would have to act according to the self-seeking, self-interested part of human nature. Go for the wealth, the power and the reputation. Forget Godly love.

Since he was human, Jesus must have felt within himself the rewards that would come with such desert temptations. And he must feel it now as Peter gives him the very same enticement. So he reacts strongly.

Does he really mean that Peter is Satan? No. But surely he remembers with pain the devil’s temptations.
No wonder that name slips out.

Copyright © 2023, John B. Foley, SJ All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce for personal or parish use.