Get behind me, Satan

January 7, 2015

Dear brothers and sisters,

The good news today is brought to us by Mark in 8:31-33.

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

According to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, the Son of Man as described in the books of Enoch and Ezra is “a unique figure of extraordinary spiritual endowments, who will be revealed as the one through whom the everlasting kingdom decreed by God will be established.” However, it goes on to state that it is doubtful that Jesus used the title in this sense — or that Peter understood it in that way, but rather Jesus used it to mean simply a human being. I like that first meaning, though, as it seems to perfectly convey Jesus’ identity and mission. Moloney in The Gospel of Mark agrees that Jesus was teaching his disciples that “His messiahship is to be found in his future as the Son of Man….This is the first expression of ‘the Son of Man’s since Jesus’ earlier claim of authority to forgive sin and over the Sabbath.”

This is the first time in Mark’s gospel that Jesus speaks clearly to his disciples about his impending suffering, death, and rising from the tomb. The Commentary also concludes that Mark wrote of Peter in this way to emphasize that “Anyone who denies the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus stands on the side of Satan. By calling Peter ‘Satan,’ Jesus indicates that the false view of his messiahship is a temptation.” Temptation meaning a stumbling block to belief and faith. One cannot be a follower or disciple of Jesus without accepting his passion, death, and resurrection — as painful or disorienting or incredible as that may be. Moloney claims, “This is true sight,a fullness of vision. This truth must not be hidden; it must be openly proclaimed.”

Peter had a problem with this, though. As Moloney puts it, “Peter was ready to confess that Jesus was the Messiah, but talk of death and resurrection was not a part of his scheme.” “Get behind me” can be understood as Jesus warning his disciple to not stand in his way on his journey to Jerusalem and his passion and death. It is inevitable because it is God’s plan and human beings cannot thwart Him.

I can sympathize with Peter. For most of my life I wanted to thwart death and certainly avoid suffering. I wanted to resist God’s plan for me. However, it struck me a few years ago that if I really believe what I profess, then I should embrace death as my reunion with God’s spirit. It doesn’t mean that I can’t be frightened of dying. But, if I’m really Christian, then I shouldn’t fear death; I shouldn’t fear being embraced by God. There are certainly ways of dying that I fear, suffocation being at the top, I think. I was thinking about my final hours the other day and all that I hope is that a loved one is by my side holding my hand and encouraging me that God is waiting to embrace me. A loved one willing to pass me on to my Father’s loving care. That’s the only way I can possibly avoid panic or fear, I think. So, I can understand the fear that was provoked in Peter about what Jesus was telling his disciples. Now, I can also understand that Jesus doesn’t not want me to stand in the way of God’s plan for me, for reunification with His spirit.



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