From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ (Matthew 16:21-23)
Jesus had wrestled with temptation and accepted his messianic mission. He knew who he was, understood his purpose, and had a clear vision of where his journey would lead him. When he tried to explain all of this to his disciples, Peter, the one who had been first to discover Jesus as Messiah, was shocked. He didn’t expect a Messiah who would redeem the world as the suffering servant. It was unthinkable for Peter that the cost would be so high. Perhaps Peter’s difficulty was the realization that if it cost Jesus so much, it would cost him also.
So, Peter tried to get Jesus to see that there could be another, less costly, and safer way to be God’s Messiah. The “Rock” upon which Jesus intended to build his Church, was now the “Stumbling Block” in Jesus’ journey to the cross. At no time in the gospels do we find Jesus rebuking any of his disciples so harshly. In that rebuke, Jesus made it abundantly clear that he knew who he was and what he was called to do. Not even Peter would be allowed to obstruct his divine purpose.
I remember so well how in 1965, The Rt. Reverend Horace Donegan, Bishop of New York, discovered that the early completion of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine was being jeopardized by resentment against some particular causes which he and the diocese had championed. He said, “I have learned that a very large gift toward the completion of this great cathedral was stricken out of one man’s will because of the diocese’s stand on civil rights. That happened to be in Manhattan. In other parts of the diocese, this cathedral, which I would like to see completed, has lost financial support because of the stands that I as a bishop of the Church of God have felt compelled to take.”
Then he spoke this noble word in which the real soul of the Church found utterance, “If in the providence of God it turns out to be that this unfinished condition is going to prevail for years, then I can only hope that its very unfinished quality will stand as a memorial to a diocese, which in the 20th Century, tried to do what it believed was right.”
In the ongoing redemptive work of Christ, are you providing support or getting in the way? This familiar bit of verse puts the question before us quite simply:
Isn't it strange that princes and kings,
and clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
and common folk like you and me,
are builders for eternity?
To each is given a book of rules
a block of stone and a bag of tools.
For each must shape ere time has flown
a stumbling block or a stepping stone.
Which are you - a stumbling block or stepping stone? I personally struggle with the question on a regular basis.
Jesus Christ has entrusted his redemptive work in the world today to the Baptized. The next time a priest asks you questions like,
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
think about the rebuke of Peter and remember that the answer is, “I will, with God’s help.” Nobody ever said you’d have to do these things alone. In fact, if you don't need God's help, it may not be God's work. The One who refused to allow Peter to obstruct his journey to the cross and the resurrection continues to empower those who recognize that the cost of discipleship is high, but take up their crosses and follow him anyway.