Yesterday a rooster, today a feather duster! An old saying, that emphasizes that status and success are all too often fleeting. St Peter having been declared last week to be the rock on which the Church will be founded is now called Satan, the Adversary. Quite the turnaround.
The heart of Peter’s problem, and the cause of his being rebuked, is that he cannot accept the Lord telling him that his, Jesus’s, mission is not going to end in triumph and success (at least not in earthly terms) but rather ignominy and death. It’s not a pleasant thought and Peter does not want to think it. He would rather keep a nice, positive, vision of a world, or at least an Israel, where everything will be made nice without too much unpleasantness.
The trouble is that “nice” is not what’s on offer. In fact it isn’t possible in the world as it is. An honest appreciation of the world means accepting that it is in a mess. Telling the truth means telling hard truths. The prophet Jeremiah is complaining that instead of saying nice things he is compelled, as the prophet of the Lord, speak unpleasant things. But sometimes the only way to bring about the good is to be blunt, to say what people don’t want to hear. Which of us would really prefer a doctor to say falsely: “there’s nothing really wrong with you”, when a true statement would be: “you are seriously ill and will need painful and unpleasant treatment to save your life?”
That is the truth about the world. There is a lot wrong. So much wrong, in fact, that only the appalling medicine of the cross could fix it. That is what Jesus had come to do, however hard Peter found to accept it. Jesus came to give himself totally for the life of the world. And as he taught Peter that, he also called him, and us, to follow his example. Hence the great challenge that concludes this Gospel passage. To deny ourselves, to give up the comfortable daydreams of things being made “nice”, and to join Our Lord in taking up the cross; to give ourselves to him as completely as we can so that we can become a part of his great work of making things, not “nice”, but rather glorious.
Fr Chris Denham