The question Jesus asked Peter is a question we all must answer – ‘who do you say I am?’ We have to answer it but from a different perspective than Peter and the others. Peter named Jesus the Messiah, and he was right. At the same time Peter was wrong. His idea of the Messiah was the common one at the time – the Messiah would be a liberator who would free the Jewish people from Roman occupation and restore the Jewish nation to the glory days of King David and Solomon.
This was not how Jesus saw himself. He upsets not only Peter but all those in His hearing when he bursts their bubble of their expectations by telling them, “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the powers that be, He will be put to death but in three days rise again.”
Peter can’t handle this. In Matthew’s gospel we hear Peter say, ‘far be this from you Lord, this must never happen to you.’ Jesus ends up by calling Peter Satan. That’s pretty strong language. Satan. Maybe Peter’s attempt to turn Him from His task reminded Jesus of His encounter with Satan in the desert at the beginning of His public life. We know this encounter as ‘the temptation in the desert’. Don’t be hungry, Satan had said, don’t be weak, don’t be unknown. Make yourself some bread out of that rock. Rule the kingdoms. Make God your tool to force the angels into catching you when you fall. You don’t need to suffer. You are the Christ.
Christ was not interested in riches, honors and control. He entered totally into our humanity, like us in all things. He accepts and experiences suffering, as we do. He accepts rejection, betrayal and death because these are human realities.
Peter’s confusion and disappointment of Jesus’ prediction of His future speaks to the fact that Peter and the others were expecting their Messiah to be a leader not a loser.
Neither the temptation in the desert not the cajoling of Peter would turn Jesus away from his appointed task; to suffer and die and reconcile the world to God – making peace by His death on the cross. That’s why the church applies the words of Isaiah to Jesus – ‘the Lord opened my ear – I did not turn backward – I gave my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who plucked out my beard – I did not hide my face from insult and spitting – I set my face like flint.’ These words speak of determination. Isaiah knew he had a task to do – and no matter what the obstacles he would accomplish it because he was convinced He who vindicates me is near.
Commitments cost. The commitment of marriage, the commitment of a vowed life, the commitment to social justice. the commitment to truth. The commitment to one’s faith.
There was an article in the Post about a young man named Benjamin Rubin. He is on the Quebec Remparts hockey team. This past Friday they began the defense of their 2006 Memorial Cup championship. Benjamin Rubin who is 17 years old did not play in the opening game, it’s on the Sabbath. Benjamin and his family keep the Sabbath. Imagine the pressure this young man must have under – from team mates, from fans. What’s so awful about breaking the Sabbath, why are you being such a goodie goodie. Don’t you know you’re letting your team down. Let’s have separation of church and sports. To his credit Benjamin stuck to his faith commitment.
Any person who has made any commitment will be tempted – when the going get rough, when things don’t go as expected and there are disappointments – to turn back, to take an easy way out. Jesus was committed to do the will of the Father, it cost Him His life. In the light of His commitment to us, we can look at our commitment to Him and to others in our lives – for all our difficulties – are we faithful?.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we can pray for ourselves and for each other for the grace to be faithful to our commitments to God, to husband or wife, to our faith in Christ. – may we be graced ‘to set our face like flint ‘ and always be faithful to the Christ, Who was faithful to us – loved us and gave His life for us.