We all know people in leadership who take themselves a bit too seriously. Some confuse their role or title with their significance in the scheme of things. Some look for privilege and an easy life, forgetting that leadership of anything worthwhile involves hard work, misunderstanding and invariably brings opposition.
The first part of today’s gospel story presents Peter, who has just been declared the foundation rock of the church, refusing to accept that Jesus’ mission will involve suffering, even death.
For all its seriousness, there is something a little comical about this story. Peter actually censures or reprimands Jesus who sets him straight in no uncertain terms. The rock becomes the leader of the opposition, a serious obstacle to God’s purposes, a stumbling block. He is ordered back to the place where disciples properly belong, namely ‘behind’ or ‘following’ Jesus.
Matthew provides a striking contrast in this section of the gospel between Peter who ‘rebukes’ Jesus and the Canaanite woman who respectfully and persistently implores Jesus to see from a new perspective. While the woman’s plea is heard and she herself is praised for her great faith, Peter receives a decisive rebuttal.
Peter’s impetuous outburst provides the trigger for Jesus to invite his disciples to think about what they really want. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is the teacher and the disciples are the students who have accepted the invitation to ‘follow’ him. That means living out in their lives the pattern of his life. If they really want to be his followers, then they have to embrace the pain involved in his relentless programme of teaching and healing the sick and brokenhearted. They will also share the ‘glory’.
If they choose to put their own interests first, then they will surely lose themselves. It is ultimately a question of choosing life. Peter forgets this for a while and has to be reminded to be true to what he has previously professed. He is not much different from the rest of us. We all need to rethink our choices and reorder our priorities from time to time if we want to ‘find life’.
-Veronica Lawson RSM