Jesus + Anger: Jesus’ death and Peter’s denial

This past weekend, in honour of holy week, we looked at Matthew 16, where Jesus predicts his death. Peter rebukes him, and Jesus responds to Peter: Get behind me, Satan! It’s a fascinating story related to anger + rebuking.

Jesus’ sharp response to Peter seems to be very disconnected from the picture of love presented in 1 Cor 13: love is patient, kind, does not enjoy, boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not easily angered… How can this be? Is Jesus not loving?!? Yet, it’s not like Jesus could have said something else, something along the lines of “Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Peter” or “You know, we’re all going to die sometime, Peter.” Such a response was hardly loving, as it leaves both Peter (and all those listening) in ignorance and denial. If our understanding of love is not wide enough to include Jesus’ response to Peter, is it perhaps because we (including as a Christian culture) have created too limiting an idea of what love really is?

Ironically, love probably was part of Peter’s response. The text shows us that Peter was deeply committed to Jesus. Who would ever want someone that they care about to suffer a horrible death, like that of crucifixion? Our own prayers today for those we love echo some of this concern: that those we love do not have to suffer. Yet, just as our prayers today need to be prayed through the lens of God’s will being done (cf. the Lord’s prayer), so do Peter’s words. Peter’s words echoed more what he thought was good than what God thought was good: Peter was probably fearful that Jesus was embarking on something crazy. As much as Peter rightly understood how Jesus was the Messiah, he also possessed a certain level of arrogance in attempting to explain to Jesus what being the Messiah actually meant.

Since rebuking is usually done from authority, as readers we should notice something is odd when the text tells us that Peter rebuked Jesus and not the other way around. Jesus’ response reminds us of Jesus’ temptation in the desert (and his responses then). I expect there is also some exasperation involved in Jesus’ response here: 1) that Peter claimed authority that was not his, and 2) that the disciples still and always don’t get it. But is it surprising that they don’t get it? Who would have guessed that God’s kingdom would not have involved returning the Jews to the land (like it always had in the past), but instead would mean Jesus would ride into Jerusalem triumphantly only to be riding to his death?

Jesus tells the disciples that “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (v.24). There are those connected to Campus Edge whose faith has caused them to be (almost) estranged by family and friends and to lose their sense of joy or well-being. Knowing the real cost of taking up the cross, should we not all have a little fear at these words? Are any of us really able to do that?