Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.” – Matthew 16:22-23 (NRSV)
A friend once got into big trouble at work. She hadn’t set out to cross a line, but she did, and her boss came down hard on her. When she told us about it, she said, “I got what I deserved.” On cue, we protested, “Don’t be so hard on yourself! You didn’t mean it. You’re not a bad person!” We were all very supportive.
Later she said that she’d felt disrespected. We’d declared her incapable of doing anything bad, and she knew that wasn’t true. She’d needed us to take her seriously and bear with her the cross of new self-knowledge. Instead, we’d dismissed her with a few glib words of nonjudgmental support.
Peter was being supportive, too. Jesus had been saying depressing things about getting killed, so Peter hurried to reassure him, “That’s just not going to happen, Jesus. Not to someone like you!” As if nothing bad could ever happen to a good person. Peter was channeling Satan, who’s always encouraging convenient fantasies, imaginary worlds, and unreal relationships.
Jesus slapped Peter down, “To hell with your support!” He wasn’t interested in being someone nothing bad could ever happen to, someone who couldn’t possibly end up like that. He didn’t need Peter’s bogus assurance of invulnerability. He needed companions to share the worst, friends willing to risk complicating their lives in real relationship, followers prepared to face his death squarely, and their own.
We’ve been taught that there’s nothing more important than being supportive. But maybe there is. Maybe it’s getting real.
Face us with the worst, good Jesus. Break through our illusions. Help us get real.