Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-9
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 63:2-6, 8-9
Second Reading: St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 12:1-2
Gospel: According to St. Matthew 16:21-27
There is a reason that Jesus changed the name of Simon to Peter. Last weekend’s Gospel reading leads us to believe that it is because Peter (petros or ‘rock’) is the rock upon which Jesus would build His Church. Fair enough, but there is something more going on here, and it comes to light in this weekend’s continuation of the story.
Besides being that rock that is the foundation of the Church and all of his successors up to Francis, Peter is also a bit, as they used to say, slow on the uptake. In his quickness to react to Jesus’ proclamation that He will suffer greatly at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes, Peter reveals that he has been caught up in the moment of his appointment as the head of the Church.
The Gospels never shy away from showing the jostling for position among the Apostles as they try to move themselves to the head of the class. Peter, having just been handed the role of Vicar of Christ, wastes no time in his attempt to put his stamp on things by telling Jesus that He must be mistaken, that He has misread the signs of the times: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
Jesus knew Peter better than Peter knew himself and therefore must have anticipated such a response. Sometimes Peter speaks without thinking, blurts out without understanding, and shows himself to be the simple and impulsive fisherman that he is. Jesus didn’t name him Rocky for nothing, and I can’t help but wanting to yell out “Yo, Adrian!” whenever I hear Jesus reprimand Peter for his inability to understand the true mission of the Messiah.
And yet in this passage Rocky – sorry, Peter – moves from being an individual to an everyman who voices what anyone would voice in that situation. Who could travel with Jesus, see and hear all that Jesus has done and said, and not conclude that Jesus would ultimately be hailed as the Messiah? Peter is, as Jesus points out, “thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” And it is to Peter as a representative of us all that Jesus responds.
Jesus lays out God’s thinking, and it runs quite contrary to the thinking of His followers who have simply inherited the conventional wisdom that the Messiah would be a political and military hero who would lead Israel to worldly greatness. To follow the true Messiah is to pick up one’s cross, is to deny oneself. Little could Peter have known just how personal those words would become, but when he faced death on the cross he must have thought back to this moment as he told the Roman executioners to crucify him upside down because he was not worthy to be killed in the same manner as his Master.
So the everyman, Peter, eventually fulfills Jesus’ words and offers himself as the ultimate example to every other person who wants to leave behind being an admirer of Jesus and instead become a follower of Jesus. Through losing his life, he saves it, and Rocky – not Balboa – teaches us the lesson that “if I can change…everybody can change!"