Satan isn’t a horned demon — it’s that voice in all of us that tries to solve problems through blame, scapegoating, exclusion, and violence.
S2:E32 EPISODE SUMMARY
“Get behind me, Satan!”
Ouch. This is how Jesus answers Peter when Peter expresses that he doesn’t want Jesus to die? Sounds rather harsh.
Actually, a lot of Jesus’s words in this passage sound harsh and hard … There is no sugar-coating either his fate or that of his followers. How are we supposed to find blessing and “good news” when Jesus speaks of Satan, crosses, and shame? Jesus’s words begin to make more sense when we realize that he is subverting the most common human ideas of how to bring about peace and justice in the midst of an unjust, violent world. He tells Peter to tell no one that he is the Messiah because many expect the Messiah to violently overthrow the Roman Empire in order to usher in the Messianic age, where the lion will lie down with the lamb and there will be peace, harmony, and justice. How do most people think a violent empire or system must be overthrown? Through superior violence! Jesus doesn’t want to rile up an army, or have followers who use him as a rallying point to be over-and-against not only Rome, but others who don’t accept Jesus’s Messiahship. Jesus wants to subvert “over-againstness” against people altogether. He wants to show that the only way to peace is through radical forgiveness which stimulates repentance: change of heart and mind and vision.
So when Peter rebukes Jesus for saying that the Son of Man must be killed, he isn’t just saying that he doesn’t want Jesus to die… although I’m sure he is concerned for his friend and leader. He is also asking, “How can the Messiah die? What good could possibly come from this? How is this going to help us against Rome?” And Jesus is saying that responding to violence with violence can only lead to more violence. He is rebuking the false way to peace: accusation and violence. That is what he means by “Satan.” And there is a degree of “Satan” in all of us. Satan isn’t a horned demon — it’s that voice in all of us that tries to solve problems through blame, scapegoating, exclusion, and violence.
Jesus isn’t going to lead people to take up swords. To follow Jesus, we have to turn our swords upside-down into crosses. Instead of returning violence for violence, we are called to forgive, to see the potential for redemption and goodness in everyone. (Please note, that doesn’t mean continue in abusive relationships. We talk about that extensively in these podcasts.)
The cross is an instrument of shame as well as death. In a violent world, pacifists and people who forgive are often shamed. But when Jesus says, “Those who are ashamed of me… of them will the Son of Man be ashamed,” he is not speaking only of himself. He is saying that the shame we pour onto victims of violence and marginalization will return to us when we understand our violence and exclusion for what it is. This isn’t punishment, but a consequence of love… when hearts break open, remorse is the natural result. That remorse gives way to better when we move beyond our violence to understanding our interconnection. It’s that fundamental interconnection, to each other and to God, that Jesus shows us in his life, death, and resurrection.
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