September 3, 2017
Twenty Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, year A
Immediately after Peter’s profession of faith, in Caesarea Philippi (Mt 16:13-20), Jesus feels the need to introduce His disciples to the mystery of the suffering that awaits Him; He knows He can feed messianic expectations far removed from the true meaning of His mission, and begins to define the boundaries of His way of conceiving the kingdom of God, His salvation. A way that is always different from what humans would expect.
Then, three times, He announces to His disciples that he will have to face a great trial, and that this trial will culminate in an infamous death, but, on the third day, He will rise again.
In the today’s Gospel, we find the first of these announcements: “Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer much from the elders, chief priests and scribes, and be killed and resurrected on the third day” (Mt 16:21).
Jesus emphasizes first of all that He must live this passion. This verb, “must”, is an important verb.
We do not like the verb “must” very much, with its sense of constriction, lack of freedom. Jesus “must” face this death, but not as one who is forced to do something that, in heart, He does not want to do: His is a free obedience. It is the obedience of those who know that they have to walk this road if they want to love to the end. It is the free obedience of those who know this is necessary, and do not pull back, do not flee away: those who really love know that love involves some duties, because it creates links that are daily honored.
Freedom is lacking only where love is missing, and love always brings in itself a necessity, a duty, and therefore, necessarily, a death.
And a love that honors its bond to the end, cannot but rise up in the end…
Jesus therefore knows that man’s salvation depends on his obedience to the Father’s plan of love, and does not put anything in the way of the fulfillment of this will.
He does not interpose anything, not even the suffering and not even a death caused by His own people: this death will not be a scandal for Him (v. 23), will not prevent Him from loving, and will on the contrary be the place to reveal the boundless dimensions of His love for man.
If scandal is all that is placed in the middle, that is blocking the path, that interrupts communication, Jesus will not let Himself be scandalized by death, injustice, rejection, denial.
The only scandal Jesus can see for Himself and for His disciples is therefore not the dramatic and painful events that He will face; the only possible scandal is the thought which is not of the Father, a thought that claims that there exists a salvation that does not pass through the gift of life.
A thought that tries to put limits on love, that puts restrictions.
At the beginning of His mission, this thought had been thrown at Him by the devil, in the time of temptation (Mt 4:11).
Now, at another turning point, this same thought is expressed by Peter, who takes the Master aside and “rebukes” Him: and this attitude, Jesus calls a scandal.
Scandal is not necessarily a serious, shameful fact; scandal is also, “simply”, every reasonable thought that does not go beyond a logic that tries to save oneself before everything else. This is what impedes the way, which distracts the heart from the goal.
In the face of Jesus’ revelation, therefore, all the resistance of the disciple emerges immediately, and it is normal for it to be so: Peter is each one of us.
Jesus then simply asks Peter to rediscover his place, that of being behind the teacher, not before, not in between Jesus and the Father, as a stumbling block, a scandal. “Get behind me, Satan! You are scandalous, because you do not think according to God, but according to men!” (16:23).
He asks humility to learn a different, new logic: even this cannot be revealed by flesh and blood (Mt 16:17), but only by the Father, Who gives it to the little ones.
Peter’s place is that of every disciple, “if anyone wants to come after” the Lord (Mt 16:24), he must, like Peter, leave his own worldly logic, that of seeking life by his own strength, to enter a logic of gift, without limits.
He will receive the grace to not be scandalized by anything: there is no evil in the world – not even death – that can separate us from the Lord, that prevents us from doing the only duty that makes us humans all the way, that of loving to the end.