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Donna Grimes

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time “Get behind me, Satan. You are an obstacle to me.” (Mt. 16:21-27)

If you’ve been “in church” for a while, you’ve likely heard Church folk say – for emphasis or in jest – “Get behind me Satan.” Jesus spoke these very words to Peter, one of his closest friends and a constant companion during his earthly ministry. However, now I realize that Jesus did not call his confused friend the devil. In recent preceding Sunday gospels, we learn that Peter walked on water at the Lord’s command until he got scared by his own reflection. Jesus selected Peter to be the rock on which He would build His church, saying to Peter, “I will give you the keys to heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Beyond those wondrous signs, Jesus revealed his glorious appearance only to Peter, James, and John at the Transfiguration. So, as singer-composer Rickie Byars Beckwith observed, “No mistakes have been made in God.”

Instead, Jesus spoke to whatever devilish impulses resided in Peter’s heart that prompted his opposition to the Lord’s warning. Although Peter’s words appeared to be clothed in a Mama Bear kind of love – “Heaven forbid anyone would harm you, my Lord!” – Jesus revealed that that idea and motivation really was grounded in human concern for acceptance, power, favored status, and such. Placing this in its historical context, most followers of Jesus believed the Messiah would gloriously free them from Roman domination. Hallelujah! Similarly, today, we want deliverance from racist terrorists who hunt people they don’t know but hate. We pray to end gun violence on the streets, in schools, and at malls. God always hears the cries of the poor and despised.

God also understands that our good intentions are filtered through a net of human desire and striving. While it is human nature to avoid suffering and bypass difficulty whenever possible, here Jesus exhorts us to proceed through the unpaved narrow path where there will be inconvenience, discomfort and perhaps even danger. Taking that road means certain death but also leads to abundant, everlasting life. Can we come to not fear rejection and death, as Peter eventually learned to do after receiving the Holy Spirit?

Secondly, is discipleship impeded by certain friends or family who are our obstacles? Do we allow others to dump their gossip, criticism of people, petty resentments, and discontentment with life into our ears and minds? Do we spend more than we should on beauty products, sports gear, carryout, lottery tickets, etc.? How much do we invest in looking great and living our best life? What frivolous, shiny things do we grasp for in exchange for eternal life with God? Ouch!

The flood of messaging from media influencers is a lovely, fast, smart, rich sham. But the precious time spent with Christ – quietly, intimately and continuously – enables us to carry a cross that we didn’t want to bear which leads us to find an authentic life that we didn’t even know we were in danger of losing.

Take time this week to meditate on the nature of your own cross. Is it related to physical health, feeling misunderstood, isolated, family drama, PTSD, hunger, money troubles, abandonment, or something else? Ask God to reveal any devilish impulses that need to be uprooted from your heart. The private exchange between Jesus and Peter in the subject gospel text was “productively contentious.” Thus, we, too, can wrestle in personal dialog with God until our heart conforms with the heart of our loving Creator.

Author: Donna Toliver Grimes, Assistant Director, African American Affairs

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