Today’s Gospel continues straight on from last week’s and shows how fleeting the disciples’ understanding was. Last week, they heard Peter identify Him as the Son of God – this week, they hear Jesus call Peter “Satan”. What is going on?
The problem lies in Peter’s understanding of what being the Messiah – the Son of God means.
He had been brought up on the idea of a warrior Messiah – someone who would liberate Israel by his qualities of leadership and even having traveled with Jesus and heard His words in the Sermon on the Mount,
Peter is still convinced that this is Jesus’ destiny.
Jesus understands things differently.
He recognizes that His Kingdom is not one of this world – and that the kind of Kingdom He is building is going to bring Him into conflict with the chief priests and lead, eventually, to His death.
This is unthinkable to the disciples – but Jesus is quite certain and recognizes in Peter’s words some of the empty promises offered by Satan in the desert. Hence words which seem harsh: “get behind me, Satan”. Last week, Peter thought in God’s way – this week, he has reverted to human thinking.
Jesus makes the point even more strongly – not only is He destined to suffer but those who follow Him are going to suffer too. The true followers of Jesus will, like Him, have to shoulder the burdens of suffering and death.
But the promise Jesus offers at the end shows that this is not empty suffering – or pain for its own sake. In the end, suffering and death always leads to new life. The life Jesus offers is worth any price.