TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
Sun Tzu was a Chinese military strategist and philosopher who existed around the 5th Century BC. Many historical sources regard him as the author of the classic Chinese work, “The Art of War,” which outlines the strategies and maneuverers one could use to gain victory over an enemy. One of the timeless quotes from Sun Tsu says:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
Let us keep this quote in our minds as our reflection progresses.
The Gospel narrative of this Sunday (Matthew 16: 21-27) tells us what happened after Simon declared Jesus as the Christ, which also earned him access to the keys of the kingdom of heaven with the power to bind and to set free. In today’s Gospel, Jesus started to reveal to his disciples the next steps in his mission, which include going to Jerusalem to suffer, die, and to rise on the third day.
Simon Peter, hearing what Jesus said, takes him aside to rebuke him over the plans to go to Jerusalem to suffer and to die. He said, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you”. The reaction of Simon Peter here contradicted his early declaration of Jesus as the Christ. The Gospel of Luke (24:46) says, “it is written that Christ should suffer, die and rise from the dead on the third day.” So, if Jesus is the Christ, he should go through the route of suffering, death, and resurrection on the third day.
Simon Peter may have thought that he was doing Jesus a great favor by advising him not to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. What Simon did not know was that Satan was using him as a channel to obstruct the salvific mission of Christ. He could have been shocked when our Lord rebuked him, saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You think not as God does, but as human beings do”.
Learning the Strategies of Satan: Simon Peter’s Experience
Any attentive mind would notice the transition of Simon Peter from the man to whom God revealed the true identity of Jesus as the Christ to the man through whom Satan tried to use as an obstacle to the mission of Jesus Christ. In the first instance, Simon declared as God would, while in the second instance, he made a human utterance.
The first lesson on the strategies of Satan is that Satan often operates through human beings, especially those who are close to us and even the best among them. Notice that Simon just got a new name, Peter, which means rock. He also received the keys and the authority to bind and loose. As he rises to a new level, he is overwhelmed by a new devil.
Looking closely at Peter’s rebuke, we discover that he neglected the best part of what our Lord said, which is the rising on the third day. He was, therefore, forbidding the suffering and death of Jesus without reference to the resurrection. Satan comes to show us what we could go through with the cross and never what we stand to gain after carrying the cross.
In another dimension, Satan would also try to show you what you stand to enjoy at the moment but not what you would suffer eternally from what you would gain now. This revelation remains a great lesson for every one of us to always try to see the entire picture before making our choices and decisions in life.
Recognizing and Rebuking Satan in our Lives
Remember Sun Tzu’s advice that knowing the enemy and knowing yourself would lead you to victory in every battle. This idea applies to the spiritual life. The reflection of last Sunday made us understand who we are, leveraging God’s definition. The challenge today is for us to realize that we have an enemy (1 Peter 5:8) whose plan is to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10a). Most Christians in the world today think that the idea of Satan is a myth, so they deny that Satan exists. That is the height of satanic manipulation.
Often, most people think that Satan is restricted to operate around weird people and places. That is another error. Satan’s plan is continuously to thwart every excellent and godly plan. The project is to make a good thing to become bad. We see this starting from the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden when everything was perfect and right, and the devil comes to tempt Eve through the talking serpent (Genesis 3:1ff).
The devil waited for our Lord Jesus Christ to complete his forty days fasting and prayers before showing up to tempt him (Matthew 4: 1-11). And today, as Jesus plans to go to Jerusalem for the culmination of his earthly ministry Satan shows up through Peter to obstruct him.
You may also have your own story about some obstructions when you are following a good plan or when somethings of immense spiritual values come your way. Often, we fail to connect to the reasons behind some disruptions in our lives. St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians (2:11) says that we should not be ignorant of the devices of Satan so that he would not take advantage of us.
The biggest lesson we could learn from the response of our Lord is that we can resist and rebuke Satan as soon as he comes to negotiate with us. St. James says, “resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7). Notice that our Lord Jesus Christ made a firm declaration, “Get behind me, Satan!” It was not a mere suggestion; it was a strong declarative command!
I want to encourage you today to stand firm and stay focused on your goal like our Lord Jesus Christ in those moments of discouragement as you walk through the journey of life. Do not be afraid to take us your cross as our Lord Jesus Christ said in the second section of the Gospel today.
Note that for every cross, there is sufficient grace and a crown at the end of the journey. God will not give you a cross you cannot carry. Did you notice that the cross is a PLUS + sign? Look at it again; it is also a SWORD to defeat Satan. It is as well a PLATFORM that would help us to climb the mountains and cross the valleys of life. God bless you.