If you’ve been paying close enough attention to the Sunday Gospels between last week and this, you might be thinking, “What a difference a week makes.” Could there be a more devastating blow to someone’s ego?  To have Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, turn around and call you Satan?  Put yourself in Simon Peter’s shoes… or sandals.  The verses before this (which we heard last Sunday but happened immediately before this encounter), remember what happened?  Simon Peter was the star pupil.  He’s the Apostle of the Month.   Jesus made it clear Simon Peter gets it.  Simon Peter’s heart and mind are right.  Simon Peter has been cooperating with God’s grace and revelation.   Simon Peter had just responded to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And that’s why Simon has his name changed to “Peter.” In Scripture, it’s a big deal when God changes your name.  It’s highlighting that there’s something new, different that the person was entering into that was changing their relationship with God and how they were seen and operating in the world.  Jesus commends not just the growth in faith that Peter has experienced that brought him to this moment but also his openness to receiving God’s revelation.  Jesus not only changes his name to indicate he’s being entrusted with new responsibilities but spells them out what they were, highlighting that the name “Peter” meant “Rock” and that the Church Jesus establishes will be built on the rock of Simon Peter.  So that’s all huge.

Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 3, 2023.  I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim

And now, mere moments later, we hear “the rock” being called “Satan” by Jesus.  It’s devastating.  Or at least that is how I often thought of this scene.  But just sitting and praying with this, I had a different feel for it this time.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’d ever want to have Jesus look at me and say, “Get behind me, Satan.” Definitely not a life goal.  But when we dig a bit deeper, you can hear and see the depth of love between Jesus and Simon Peter.

Peter’s heart is in the right place.  He means well.  He always does.  He really does.  We often hear about how he messes up.  Just a few weeks ago, the Sunday Gospel was a perfect example.  We reflected on the passage right after Jesus fed over 5,000 after miraculously multiplying five loaves and two fish.   Jesus goes off to pray, sending the apostles off in their boat ahead of Him.  As the disciples are journeying on the sea, they encounter a terrible storm that threatens to capsize the boat.  Jesus walks on water – miracle number one – but everyone on the boat is terrified, thinking it’s a ghost.

Everyone except Simon Peter.

He’s the one who says, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Why did he do that?  Because Simon Peter knew what Jesus was capable of; he knew Jesus’ voice, he had looked into his eyes.  Peter would never forget the day he left his life behind as a fisherman to follow Him, the day when, after a night of not catching any fish, at Jesus’ command, he caught such an abundance that the boat almost sank – another amazing miracle.  So, in this boat, Peter was professing his faith in Jesus, and he’s putting himself on the line for the others who were with him in the same storm-rattled boat but were overwhelmed by fear and doubt.  And Peter experiences a miracle again, where he walks on water!  Just as quickly, though, when Peter stops looking at Jesus when he starts to pay attention to the wind and the sea and starts to let fear and doubt distract him, he starts to sink.  As he cried out, “Lord, save me!” he once again is testifying he believes in Jesus, and Jesus does save him, but adds, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

The point is – what makes Simon Peter, Simon Peter?  He’s not guarded or calculated.  He’s brutally honest.  He’s not fragile – he doesn’t melt when he gets criticism or storms off in a huff.  Jesus and Peter are two men whose love for each other is strong enough to be themselves and be completely transparent with each other.    When Jesus says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Peter doesn’t get defensive and launches, saying, “I didn’t see any of these other guys stepping out of the boat!” Simon Peter knows the truth and doesn’t miss it – he did have “little faith.” Which was good.  It made it possible for him to walk on water.  But for Simon Peter to keep doing that, so to speak, to fulfill the potential that Jesus saw in him, he needed greater faith.

That’s what’s happening here.  After being entrusted with greater responsibilities, Simon Peter listened to Jesus share some brutal prophecies about what awaited him in Jerusalem.  Maybe Simon Peter couldn’t reconcile that Jesus, who was so clearly the son of God, would experience that type of rejection.  Maybe Simon Peter’s thinking Jesus doesn’t think the disciples can mount a defense, but he would whip these guys into shape?  Whatever it was, his reaction, “God forbid, Lord!  No such thing shall ever happen to you,” is beautiful.  You hear his care, his concern.  It reminds me of some friends of mine whose little kid who was in first grade at the time was watching I Think Jesus of Nazareth on television, and when the scene is between Jesus and Pilate and Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews” the little guy knowing the story, whispered, “lie Jesus!” We don’t want anyone we love to be mocked, to be rejected, to suffer.  So, on that level, Peter’s reaction is beautiful.

But so is Jesus’ reprimand because as abrupt and dramatic as it is, Jesus knows He can speak like that to his right-hand man, demonstrating His care and concern for Peter.  Jesus is getting Peter’s heart and mind focused.  Peter’s authority as “the rock” isn’t about him doing things his way.  It’s solely in him remaining completely fixated on listening to Jesus – following His example, recognizing that he needs to channel his passion, instincts, personality, and be more intentional and careful with them.  Not to abandon those things or become someone he’s not, But to redirect them.   He needs to be asking himself if his first thought or reaction is this what Jesus wants.  It’s like Jesus is saying to him, “This is just like on the water… don’t look at the waves or the wind, keep focused on me.”

That’s how Jesus speaks to Simon Peter.  If we reflect on the other disciples, you see that he relates to each of them differently.  Just like any intimate friend does with any of their friends, he knows and loves them.  John, the “beloved disciple,” probably would’ve melted if Jesus called him Satan.  So, Jesus approaches and deals with him differently.  But always to the same end, with the same goal in mind.  Coming and calling him to greater fidelity focused on Him and Him alone.

Today, I think we’re challenged with asking ourselves – How open are we to receiving direction from the Lord?  Do we trust that Jesus knows us and loves us?  Like John the beloved disciple and Simon Peter, do we know Jesus looks at us with love?  That He sees who we are and where we are.  He knows what we’re struggling with.  But loves us authentically so that He doesn’t want us to miss our potential.  He loves us genuinely so that He knows we must always turn away from sin and grow in holiness.  Are we willing to receive and reciprocate?  Make the sacrifices necessary to love as He loves us.  Are we ready to carry the cross?

For each of us, that’s going to look different.  The sacrifice you’re being challenged to accept, the selflessness you’re being asked to offer, the pain that you’re offering up – that’s your way of sanctification in your life.  Don’t fall for the lies of the devil who likes us to get caught up comparing ourselves with others to make us feel better with the little we’re doing and defeated seeing the heroic examples of someone else.  All of those comparisons keep us fixated on living and operating on a worldly level, which St. Paul so beautifully reminds us in the second reading today – “do not conform yourselves to this age – be transformed” by our adhering to God’s word and commands.  Simon Peter shows us in this Gospel it’s a constant battle we’re confronted with.  Our human impulses and instincts kick in.  We’re tempted to revert to old ways and habits.  Now, St. Peter, St. John, and St. Paul are praying that we find the courage and the inner strength to listen to Jesus, follow Jesus, and embrace our crosses.   When we do, then these words of Pope St. John Paul II are realized:

“When the cross is embraced, it becomes a sign of love and of total self-giving.  To carry it behind Christ means to be united with him in offering the greatest proof of love … the choice is between a full life and an empty existence, between truth and falsehood.”