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Peter followed Jesus but missed the point

Along the way to Caesarea Philippi Jesus quizzes the disciples with two questions; Who do people say I am; the second one is more challenging: Who do you say I am? 

 After reporting what people are saying, Peter shows he has understood everything and, on behalf of the others, proclaims: “You are the Messiah,” the Christ, the saviour spoken of by the prophets and that all the people are waiting. 

It is hard to find a more appropriate response. In the gospel of Matthew the pleasing reply of the Master is also remembered, “It is well for you, Simon Bar-Jona, for it is not flesh or blood that has revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).

To Peter’s response follows the strict imposition of silence. Jesus does not want the news about his messianic identity spread around (vv. 27-30) and the reason for keeping the secret is clear: Peter gave a precise definition only in form, in fact, the idea he has in mind is totally distorted.

He continues to be convinced that the Master will soon begin the kingdom of God on earth and thinks that this will be implemented by ostentatious display of power, through signs and wonders that will require the attention of all. 

They have not realised that from the beginning, the Master considered the proposal to take power and to present himself as a ruler of this world diabolical (Matthew 4:8-10).

The misconception is total and for Jesus the time to correct this dangerous mistake has arrived. He should make very clear what is the goal of his journey, explaining how the Father will fulfill in him his work of salvation.

 In the second part of the passage (vv. 31-33), Jesus begins to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must suffer many things. 

He is not bound to succeed, but to fail; that he will not triumph over those who oppose his plan, but he will be defeated. He does not go to Jerusalem to scare off his enemies, but to give them his life.

The disciples can neither understand nor accept the prospect of the gift of life. It is not for this that they left the house, the boat, the family to follow the Master. Where does he want to lead them, to ruin, to defeat?

Jesus does not withdraw a word, in fact, two more times he repeats, “The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him” (Mark 9:31); “You see we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be condemned to death. They will make fun of him, spit on him, scourge him, and finally kill him” (Mark 10:33-34). 

This latest announcement is particularly dramatic because it lists, in detail, almost pedantically, the six works that make up the human response to God who comes to meet him to offer him salvation.

A seventh will follow: “Three days later he will rise” (Mark 10:34), but this will be the work of God.

Human logic cannot but be upset in front of such a prospect. In fact Peter, on behalf of all, reacts (vv. 32-33), not for fear of sacrifices, we know that he would be willing to risk his life if necessary (John 18:10), but to win, not to lose. 

He does not feel like committing himself to an absurd project. He cannot accept to walk a road that leads to failure, that is why he tries to make the Master change his mind.

Jesus’ response to Peter, who wants to turn him from his way is tough.

Peter made the mistake by putting himself ahead of the Master. Moved by his religious beliefs, he felt compelled to show him the way. Jesus invites him to return to his place—behind—and to follow in his footsteps.

He calls him satan because, having absorbed the thoughts of men, which makes him blind and unable to understand the will of God (Wisdom 2:21-22), he suggested to the master, without even realising it, choices opposite to those of the Lord. 

The apostles received from Jesus the strict injunction not to disclose his identity. If we do not verify, in the light of the words in today’s gospel, the reasons why we proclaim ourselves Christians, he could also strictly impose silence to many of us.

Father Fernando Armellini cmf