In the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew we see two very interesting and seemingly different encounters Peter has with Jesus.
First, Jesus installs Peter as the first pope:
“But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”Verses 15-19
Then, just 2 verses later, this happens…
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.”verses 21-23
At first one might think Jesus a little harsh, poor old Peter was just worried about Jesus. How odd it would have seemed if Peter would have responded, “That’s a great idea! How soon can we expect your suffering and death to begin?”
But, of course, Jesus was correct (Hint – He always is). This response by Our Lord states an essential fact – any suggestion that Jesus should alter His Father’s plan or disobey His Father’s will is from Satan. We also see the human nature of Jesus. He does not enjoy suffering anymore that any other human, so He does not want any distractions or temptations to His mission, which includes suffering.
Here we see how far our thoughts are from the thoughts of God. We avoid suffering to the extent that it alters our way of thinking – far from God’s way of thinking. Peter was thinking like a human – avoid suffering whenever possible. He was following the lie of this disordered human value system.
However, besides this being a rebuke of Peter for letting Satan influence him, there is another way to look at the response Our Lord gave to Peter. Specifically the first sentence, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.” Look at Satan (and sin) not as an obstacle to Jesus fulfilling His mission, but an obstacle to Peter getting to Jesus. Peter is not “hearing” what Jesus wants Peter to hear, because Satan is standing in the way, whispering a disordered human way of thinking into Peter’s ear, so Peter is not understanding correctly what Jesus is saying. Sin does this. Clouds our mind. That is why Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan, you are an obstacle to me”, because in order for Peter, and all of us, to get to Jesus, hear Jesus, understand Jesus and be close to Jesus, Satan (and sin) needs to get out of the way.
Jesus has removed the obstacle for all of us. He removed it though the very death and resurrection Peter tried to keep Him from doing. We accept this “obstacle removal” in baptism, confession, the Eucharist, acts of love and prayer. Now it is up to us to go to Jesus and listen to Him… and don’t let the obstacle get back in the way.