What stands out to me as I read this Scripture is how Jesus turns to Peter and says “Get behind me, Satan!” I imagine this happening at a family gathering, in an online forum, or at a planning meeting for a ministry. The abrasiveness of Jesus’ words bite and sting. Imagining this as Jesus’ way of talking to another is unsettling when placed into a here-and-now, this-world context.
Sometimes we think love means just not making waves, simply putting things in soft, easy-to-hear ways. This is clearly not Jesus’ example here and elsewhere in the Gospels, as unsettling as it is to hear. Sometimes our need to “play nice” can, in fact, cause us to not fully put forward what is truly at stake.
Yet I think it is also important to see both what Jesus does and does not do. Jesus does not attack Peter, per se. It is Satan, not Peter who is the adversary, a force who has taken influence and control of Peter. Some will view the Adversary (which is what Ha Satan literally means) as a literal being, with a personality, will, and history like Jesus, Peter, you, or me – the fallen angel of the abyss. In my own theology, I have come to see the powers and principles in Scripture, of which Satan is a key one, as personifications of forces that shape our lives, society, and world sometimes in life-giving and sometimes in destructive ways. These forces take on lives of their own, so much so that we talk about racism doing things or greed influencing us.
Jesus confronts the way of the world which opposes his way of peace, transformation, and reconciliation. It has taken hold of all of us, and out of that hold it has on him, Peter speaks.
Jesus names that power, identifies it, in order to free Peter from its hold on him. This is why he tells Peter not “go away” but “get behind me”. Quit following the way of this world, and embrace my way – the way of reconciliation, of transformation, the way of the cross.
To me this suggests that we don’t need to soft-pedal calling out the evils that harm us & others – abuse, mistreatment, discrimination or prejudice. We need to call them out for what they are. But we also need to check our motives and approach. We ought not to condemn the person living out that power of oppression, living out that false narrative running rampant in society. We cannot just give up on them – or ourselves, when we fall into those same patterns – as hopeless, beyond reprieve. Rather we ought, like Jesus, to call out its power over them and over us in order for us and for them to hear the cry from Jesus for us to get behind Jesus. It is only by truly seeing how much we and others have become caught up in the world’s patterns of oppression, acquisition, and dehumanization that we can begin to truly join Jesus on the path that sets us and others free.
Let’s take that courageous and risky journey together, one faltering step at a time.