From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Matthew 16:21-23 (NRSV)
As disciples of Jesus, our place in this relationship is always behind the Lord, following him where he leads, no matter the cost and no matter how perplexing or confusing it may feel at the time. When we try to invert this relationship and take the lead, things never work out well.
Any attempt that we make to pull Jesus aside puts us in the lead and Jesus in line behind us. Though we may not readily admit it, this is a persistent temptation that each of us faces. When the path of discipleship feels too hard or asks too much of us, we are tempted to pull Jesus aside and ask him to reconsider. We treat him as “therapy Jesus,” there for us when we need to talk, there for us if we’re facing a trial or crisis, but otherwise expecting him to let us set the terms and expectations of the relationship.
Our temptation is to remake faith in Jesus into our own image or into something that we can domesticate and control. Something we can easily understand, something that fits with our modern sensibilities.
When we pull Jesus aside, we actually attempt to pull him off of his mission. Jesus came to gather a community to himself through which he would heal the whole of creation, yet this healing had to pass through the heart of all that was broken and sinful. When we try to distract Jesus from this mission, saying it’s too hard or painful, the most loving thing he can say to us is “get behind me!”
I think I have always thought Jesus’s exhortation to “get behind me” was his way of dismissing Peter. I read it as “go away” or “get lost.” However, “get behind me” is Jesus rightly ordering the relationship that Peter had inverted. He isn’t dismissing Peter, he’s drawing him closer by inviting him back into right relationship. These words are an echo of the first words he spoke to Peter as his Lord and Master, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19).
In your own faith journey, you may, like Peter, find yourself trying to invert this relationship. Like he did with Peter, Jesus, in love and compassion, may need to remind you to “get behind him,” to refocus your sights on his coming Kingdom and embrace your identity as a follower of Jesus. When we are filled with fear, insecurity, or doubts, the Lord Jesus says to us, again and again, “get behind me.” Thanks be to God!
Prayer: Father, teach us afresh how to truly be followers who respond to your call of discipleship.
Application: Are there areas of your life where you’ve taken the lead and need to get back in line behind the Lord Jesus?