domenica 3 settembre 2017

«Vade post me!»

The gospel selection we have just heard is the continuation of last Sunday’s passage. We are still at Caesarea Philippi, where Simon had recognized Jesus as the Messiah—“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”—and Jesus had conferred on Simon the primacy over the Church—“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.”

It could seem a success for Jesus: finally, his disciples have acknowledged his messiahship; he could consider himself satisfied and make the most of this opportunity for further achievements. But Jesus has not come into the world to have a run of successes; rather, he has come to do the will of the Father, which is the salvation of humankind. So, immediately after Peter’s confession, Jesus makes the first prediction of his passion. He makes a surprising combination: he associates the figure of the Messiah with another old testament figure, which had nothing to do with the Messiah—the suffering Servant of the Lord, that we encounter in the book of the prophet Isaiah. No one before Jesus had ever connected these two figures, because they are so different: the Messiah had to be a king, descendant of David, who should free the Jews from the yoke of the Roman Empire and re-establish the kingdom of Israel; in the suffering Servant of the Lord, instead, the Jews usually saw themselves oppressed by other peoples. Well, Jesus joins the two figures and applies them to himself, reinterpreting the role of the Messiah in the light of the mission of the Servant of God. In other words, Jesus tells his disciples that he will be a suffering Messiah.

But this was inconceivable for a Jew. Saying “suffering Messiah” is a contradiction in terms: the Messiah cannot suffer; he should be successful by definition. Once again, Peter steps forward to express the mind of the disciples: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Probably Peter, after the words Jesus had said to him, has got a swollen head; maybe he thinks he has become the personal advisor of Jesus, and so, he feels bound to tell him what is better to do. But Jesus immediately reminds Peter of his place: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.” Usually, we are struck by the epithet Jesus addresses Simon with: just few minutes before he had declared, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church;” and now he calls him “Satan.” But let us fix for a while our attention on what Jesus says to Peter: “Get behind me (vade post me) … You are an obstacle to me.” Peter, trying to deflect Jesus from his mission, has put himself in front of Jesus, as if he were the master; and in doing so, he has become an obstacle for Jesus, like a stone to make Jesus stumble. That is why Jesus invites Peter to know his place, which is the place of a disciples. And disciples should stay behind their master and follow in his footsteps.

Peter had recognized Jesus as the Messiah because of a special revelation by God: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” But this revelation from on high has not eliminated flesh and blood: Peter continues to think not as God does, but as human beings do. But that is not only a problem for Peter; that is a problem for each one of us. For this reason, Paul says to us in the second reading: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” And Jesus tells us what is God’s will for us: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Like the apostles, we would like success in this life; on the contrary, Jesus presents to us the cross. Not because he likes to see us suffer; but because the cross is the only way to salvation. Just as passion led Jesus to resurrection, so we should never forget that “it is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). As Our Lady said to Bernadette at Lourdes, “I do not promise you happiness in this world, but in the next.”