Today’s Gospel reading follows on from last week’s, where Peter received a new name and was told by Jesus that he is the rock on which he will build. When Jesus now tells his disciples that he must undergo great suffering, be killed and then be raised on the third day, Peter takes him to one side and tells Jesus that this must never happen to him. Immediately, Jesus tells him that he is a stumbling block, using the word skandalon meaning a trap or obstacle to cause a fall – it’s a strong word, as is Jesus’ use of the word Satan, showing just how quickly Peter has misunderstood the situation. In a matter of a few moments, Peter has gone from being a foundation stone to a trip hazard and Jesus follows this by telling the disciples that anyone wanting to become a follower of his must take up and bear the cross as they follow him.
Perhaps it was hard for Jesus to contemplate what lay ahead, which may account for the harshness with which he responds to Peter – it must have been a terrible shock for Peter to hear these words from him when he had so recently been praised by Jesus. Having just been identified as the Messiah, who it was thought would be a victorious leader, it must also have been hard for his bewildered disciples to understand what Jesus was talking about and to be willing to embrace such a future. Just as Peter protests about it, perhaps we’ve known times when we have misunderstood others or been misunderstood ourselves – that can be hard to bear but also enlightening.
Peter clearly wrestles with what this means and, in Luke 22:31-34, declares that he is ready to suffer and die with Jesus. He seems to have accepted what must happen and yet will shortly betray Jesus by pretending he doesn’t know him. Peter is the only follower who is recognised as Jesus is held prisoner and, as the cock crows for the third time, he leaves and weeps bitterly, having failed Jesus again.
Like all of us, Peter had a lot to learn but all this was forgiven by Jesus who, after the resurrection, commissioned him three times (John 21:15-19) and Peter was able then to respond to the call to follow faithfully. Jesus didn’t give up on Peter despite his failings and his desire to shape events according to what he wanted and expected to happen. He won’t give up on us either and if there are things we don’t understand or conflict with those around us, perhaps we need to consider whether, like Peter, we’re trying to force a particular outcome rather than ponder what is being asked of us at that point.
Rather than insisting on having our own way, the kingdom of heaven is built of love for others and bearing the cross on a daily basis to bring about God’s purposes in building the kingdom of heaven here on earth. Peter could have become a skandalon, an obstacle to what Jesus asked of him but found the strength and courage to resist having his own way. Is the same true of us?
With my prayers; bob bendith,