Sunday Homily, 3 September 2023 - Fr Paul Rowse, OP
There are two people whom the Lord called a devil during his earthly ministry. We’ve just heard about Peter. The other is Judas; I suspect we’re more OK with that, given what he did to the Lord. But Peter being called “Satan” troubles us. Certainly, it should arrest any thought that the Lord was never harsh or aggressive. We tend to focus on his love, but the full range of human emotions are in him. We need to discover the reason why Peter was called Satan, not only for our peace of mind but also to avoid doing what he did.
Peter adopted a way of thinking which was all-too-human; he applied our logic to the divine plan for human salvation. The incongruity should be alarming to us. There’s no way our minds can possibly rationalise what would eventually happen to the Lord on Good Friday. Our thinking and God’s plan just don’t go together. So, perhaps this Sunday’s message is a simple one: let God be God; he has arranged all things without us; we don’t have to understand everything to believe.
Peter’s problem is one, therefore, that we wrestle with all the time: we contrast our limitedness with God’s limitlessness. All of our instinctive action, and impulsive drive, and decision-making are based on our limitedness. There’s only so much we can do, only so much we can handle. Surely, our mortality is in the background here. We just don’t put ourselves in mortal danger as a way of living: even combat soldiers have rotations. But in addition to our mortality, other factors affecting our way of thinking are things like our energy levels, attention spans, our memory.
We decide what to do on a given day, week, or lifespan depending on what we think we can handle. We have this prism of our limitedness through which we push all our priorities, and out the other end comes a form of existence we call living. There’s nothing wrong with that; indeed, it’s good that we do so. We might even rejoice in our limitedness because it’s in that limitedness that we realise the scope of God’s action.
But therein lies Peter’s problem: he didn’t see God’s limitlessness coming to bear even on human mortality, on Jesus’ mortality. The death of Jesus, for Peter, means resentment and ruin; it means the hasty end of something good well-started. But for God, the cross means finally dealing with a loathsome aspect of our existence once and for all, our death.
The way God acts is from his limitlessness. All things are possible for him. So when there is a dangerous situation, which would always be of our own making, the Lord doesn’t shy away from it. We know he delays the moment of engagement until the right time, that is, until Passover. We also know he avoids people who have grandiose ideas for his time on earth. Whereas you or I receiving a death sentence reach for the phone to call a lawyer who can get us off, the Lord accepts his cross as the chosen means to obtain forgiveness of sins and life eternal for us, his beloved creation. God knows, the Son of God knows, he loses nothing in the dying. He is not diminished by the cross but glorified through it.
For us, it means having a fair dose of gratitude for what the Lord has done. We are the witnesses to the goodness which comes from the cross. And we imitate the Lord’s example as best we can. Our minds cannot rationalise this important vocation, so we must raise our minds to the Lord’s. With patience and love through our own sufferings, we receive humbly and thankfully from him who is without limit.