By John Dalla Costa

I love St. Peter. He’s like George Costanza on Seinfeld — always wrong, and never quite learning the wisdom of only trusting the reverse of what he thinks is right.

Whenever Peter is a part of a gospel story, I feel great pathos for his fierce faith. Yet more so than any other disciple, Peter also unsettles me because his reactions most urgently pose questions for my own discipleship. Would I drop everything and follow Jesus? Would I dare to jump out of the boat to walk on the water? What would I say on Mount Tabor? What would I do in the Garden of Gethsemane?

In today’s gospel, Jesus invokes the harshest possible rebuke to Peter, calling the disciple he most relied on “Satan.” No one else earns such opprobrium. Why such condemnation? Why would Jesus regard an expression of protective concern with such categorical rejection?

First, I think we are glimpsing the true vulnerability of Jesus. Fully human, the Son of God is coming to understand that his own followers have failed to grasp his mission, even as the forces of opposition turn much more dangerous. As with the temptations in the desert, Peter’s wanting the safe way out imperils all salvation because it pricks at Jesus’ determination just as the Lord is marshalling the inner resources to offer every iota of his being to God’s will.

Second, I think we are being challenged about how easily the satanic can seep into our own righteousness. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognized we can conveniently construct a “Christianity without Christ,” in which “there is trust in God but no following of Christ.”

Bonhoeffer, who was later martyred by the Nazis, was writing at a time much like our own, when the name of God was being used to justify hate and perpetrate violence. Our challenge, like Peter’s, is to not only trust the Incarnation and other articles of faith. We need as well to incarnate in our own lives that costly discipleship that St. Paul describes as “presenting your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”

Sundays Readings:

Jeremiah 20.7-9

Psalm 63

Romans 12.1-2

Matthew 16.21-27