24th. Sunday of Year B
(Isaiah 50:5-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35)
There was a special bond between Jesus and Peter, and St. Mark wishes to show in his Gospel the importance and indeed pre-eminence of Peter among the Apostles of Jesus and ultimately in the Church of Jesus. So he makes it clear that Simon (Peter) and Andrew were the first disciples Jesus called to follow Him and that the first miracle of Jesus he mentions in his Gospel – the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law – might be regarded in some measure as a personal favour for Simon:
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told Him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them. (Mark 1:30-31)
After that opening presentation of Simon’s importance as a disciple of Jesus Mark did not need to indulge in further special pleading because the outstanding facts concerning Peter’s life for, and witness to, Jesus are acknowledged by the whole of the New Testament writings.
Jesus specially chose and appointed Twelve disciples as Apostles to be most intimately one with Himself, to be sent out to preach in His name and cast out demons by the power of His Spirit, and the first of these, when their names are listed, is always Simon Peter. Most significantly of all, however, it was Simon Peter who was chosen by the Father in heaven to recognize and confess for all the Apostles that Jesus was the Christ, that is the long-awaited Messiah from God for Israel, as you have just heard in today’s Gospel reading and more fully from St, Matthew:
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My heavenly Father. 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. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt. 16:17–19)
And Simon Peter responded whole-heartedly to that call; throughout the Gospels he is shown as the one disciple most impetuously responsive and ardently devoted to Jesus.
However, the true nature and full intensity of Peter’s love for Jesus is shown above all by the fact that the Father loved Peter pre-eminently because of Peter’s pre-eminent love for Jesus:
The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures but I will tell you clearly about the Father. On that day you will ask in My name, and I do not tell you that I will ask the Father for you. For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have come to believe that I came from God. (John 16:25–27)
And Jesus Himself bore the clearest witness to Peter’s love for Him when fully re-instating him after his three-fold denial, as St. John (not Mark!) tells us:
After (the Risen) Jesus had revealed Himself to His disciples and eaten breakfast with them, He said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Yes Lord, You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My lambs.” (John 21:15)
It was therefore, out of the heat and glow so to speak, of that intensely deep personal bond between Simon the disciple and Jesus the Master that Peter began to rebuke Jesus when He first told His disciples that:
The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.
Peter wanted to avert such a nightmare, he wanted -- out of love and ardour -- to prevent that taking place, to turn his beloved Master aside from such a tragic course, and so he remonstrated with Jesus in words which St. Matthew (16:22) gives us:
Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to You.”
Jesus thereupon answered most deliberately; not from passion, for we are told that He turned away from Simon and looked at His other disciples before then turning back to Peter and saying:
Get behind Me, Satan! You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
That contains an extraordinary wealth of teaching for us who want to follow Jesus as true disciples.
Why, dear People of God, did Jesus – as St. Mark alone tells us – on hearing Peter’s words, yet before answering him:
Turn around and, looking at His disciples, then and only then rebuke Peter?
It could only have been that Jesus was fully aware of the hurt His words would cause Peter (and Himself) and of the puzzlement and amazement they would cause for the other disciples present.
Notice now the very Catholic issues involved here: Jesus overrides His own natural feelings and those of Peter in order to spiritually protect and guide His other disciples, and for that purpose He most emphatically teaches:
You are an obstacle to Me (because) you are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Our present-day Western-world and irreligious society mocks (and too many popularity-seeking Catholics are weakly following suit) the very idea of bad example causing spiritual, real, harm. In our days weeping women are beyond any laws that may appear too severe for all who deny that spiritual harm can be a supremely serious reality; chaos is to be carelessly condoned (despite the protests of Hungarian, front line, Christian leaders and bishops) if pictures of suffering children can be invoked and brought into close focus.
People of God, it is not enough to have good intentions, it is not enough even to have warm feelings of human affection in one’s heart, we have got to love and walk in and along God’s way; that is, to know God’s truth, God’s purpose, plan, and will, and to adapt ourselves to it. For, if we do not seek His truth, His will, we become all too easily Satan’s useful, perhaps even favourite, tools. Jesus Himself witnesses to that!
Notice, dear people, love is not affectionate feelings nor are such feelings a reliable guide or motive for our actions. Peter was full of such feelings and full of zeal as well. No! We need to have mind, heart, and will united in the search for and service of God in order to have true love. Jesus, to one addressing Himself as ‘Good Master’, once said, ‘God alone is good’.
Today we are bombarded on all sides by emotionalism: the Pope smiles and embraces a child, he is good! Women weep for serious matters; if they weep, whatever the matters in question, they are obviously good! Self-displaying young women and girls are so charming and pretty, and their parents can be so proud of their good looks, obviously they are, if not exactly good, at least they must be innocent. Children can be badly behaved; after all they are still children and must be allowed their childhood pleasures and ‘mistakes’ (even through to 16yrs. old or more?).
People of God, Jesus could not have spoken harsher words than those He addressed to Simon Peter wanting to save Him, but He spoke them plainly and without the slightest apology. Why? Because of the reality, the dreadful reality, of spiritual harm arising from scandalous words and behaviour; and because His disciples must not think like men but as God does, they must not speak as men do but as God wills.
Where are we today, People of God? Disciples are attacked for thinking and speaking to the best of their ability in line with the teaching of God and the Scriptures, and the traditional teaching of Mother Church in her Saints and doctors: that is too often considered as inhuman. Today disciples are called upon to learn to please the multitude: to think as people think and speak only what comforts most.
To whom are those words of Jesus to be considered as being addressed today:
You are an obstacle to Me (because) you are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do?