Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Joe
September 3, 2023 - 8:30 AM
Last week, Peter, standing in the position of the Church’s first Pope, was given authority to “bind and loose” in regards to faith and morals. The Greek of this passage in which Peter receives the authority to bind and loose, our Lord uses what grammarians call the future perfect tense. The literal translation of this passage in which Peter receives authority to bind and loose says, “What you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven; what you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.” What may at first seem insignificant — this use of the future perfect tense — deserves a second look, especially because of how Peter, in today’s Gospel, is rebuked for his wrong way of thinking in relation to Christ’s coming Passion and death. This use of the future perfect tense means that Christ’s words are not about the Pope being able to arbitrarily change the moral and intellectual realities of heaven, but rather it means that the Pope’s teachings will be guaranteed to reflect these heavenly realities.
The Church says the Pope is infallible — but this is in relation to specific criteria in which he is teaching authoritatively in union with the Magisterium.
What papal infallibility does not mean is that the pope is always perfect in his actions and behavior. And today’s Gospel is a good example of this. Peter’s response to Christ’s words about being put to death is seemingly well-intentioned. But then this is met with what is surely an enlightening if not shocking moment for Peter, as his own self-perceived words of concern for Jesus are met with rebuke and being called the devil. This surely must have been unexpected for Peter. One may wonder whether Jesus really had to be so harsh with him. Surely a gentler response could have sufficed.
Perhaps it was simply our Lord’s own humanity showing itself, such as when he poured out blood in the garden because of his great spiritual agony, and when he asked that the Father would allow him to forgo the suffering of the Passion. Maybe his humanity was so torn at the thought of his coming passion, that he responded in this way toward Peter, so that Peter would quit suggesting what was already running through our Lord’s mind as a distant but hoped-for fantasy. Such a suggestion on the part of Peter only served as a temptation against doing the Father’s will, and so it merited a rebuke.
Or perhaps our Lord offered this rebuke for the sake of Peter’s own understanding. Perhaps anything gentler would not have reached Peter in the way that this rebuke surely would have reached him. Maybe a softer response wouldn’t have communicated to Peter that he himself was desperately in need of a new way of thinking. The words, “Get behind me, Satan,” surely communicated something important to him.
Such an understanding for why our Lord rebuked Peter falls in line with the idea that Peter, even though he is to be the foundation of the Church, is still human and liable to wrong thinking.
Now, after saying, “Get behind me, Satan,” our Lord then says, “You are an obstacle to me.” These words, too, seem to fit in with either interpretation: either our Lord’s humanity was showing itself as Jesus tried to get Peter to quit offering what was a real temptation, or our Lord responded in such a way for Peter’s sake, so that Peter would examine his own conscience and undergo a conversion of heart. Our Lord could mean, “You, Peter, are an obstacle to me in my mission to do the will of my Father and not my own will.” Or he could mean, “You, Peter, are an obstacle to me in my mission to communicate my mission to your own heart.”
I think either interpretation falls into the other one — I think either interpretation ultimately points to the same thing for us and our lives. Our Lord’s passion and death becomes most efficacious when we allow its saving works to enter our minds and hearts so that we, too, will each take up our own cross that we must bear and join him on that hill, for the sake of love and with the hope of the promise of new life.