Mt. 16: 21-27
The opening words of the reading indicate that Jesus’ prophecies of his suffering to come were a continuing thing. He did begin to make it clear immediately after he had elicited the first explicit expression of the disciples’ faith (voiced by Peter). The evangelist’s suggestion of a time-lag helps to temper the sharpness of the rebuke to Peter as well as to enhance the teaching on the true meaning of discipleship, the following of a crucified Lord.
Now that Jesus and the faith of his disciples have centred the reality of the kingdom on his own person, the fate of his person is crucial for the existence of the kingdom, and will in turn deeply touch the fate of his followers. Like the other evangelists, Matthew is concerned in this passage with discipleship rather than with the foresight of Jesus. The argument is less insistent on the final fate, since Jesus is ‘to be raised up on the third day,’ than on the fact that this is but the path to the resurrection. Peter’s refusal to accept this path at once withdraws him from his God-given faith; he stands across the way to the cross and thus embodies the adversary of God. The only way that Peter’s faith may gain its power is for the apostle to fall in behind and tread the same path.
‘And Peter took him aside’ (v. 22): we can picture him, in his earnestness, taking hold of Jesus and ‘rebuking’ him. The idea of a suffering Messiah was altogether foreign to Peter. He realizes too that his own position will be affected: disciple of a suffering Messiah is not a role that would appeal to him. ‘Get behind me, Satan’ – the temptation in the wilderness (4:1-1 1) aimed at getting Jesus himself to conform to the popularly acknowledged messianic pattern, to become a political messiah. It was an attempt to undermine his full acceptance of the will of God and here Peter plays Satan’s role. Ironically, the ‘Rock’ (v. I8) has become a ‘stumbling-block’ (v. 23).
Matthew (vv. 24-28) has the Lord broaden out a particular occurrence to apply to all true discipleship of Christ. This following after, through suffering, to the resurrection is not optional – it is a matter of life and death. To accept is to be endowed with the faith of Peter; to refuse is to obstruct God’s path as Peter tries to do. To believe is to fall in behind the Lord. To live for God is to trace in one’s own life the life of Christ. The cross is actual and symbolic: actual because it stood on Calvary, symbolic because it represents the sufferings, persecutions, martyrdoms, indifference, moral struggles, lovelessness which every follower of Christ is bound to meet… Every disciple of Christ has in one’s own way to face it.
The Gracious Word: Commentary on Sunday and Holy Day Readings, Wilfrid J. Harrington, O.P., Dominican Publications, Dublin, 1995, 175-176.