And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! … And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” … 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 16:17-18,23 (NRSV)]
Two Sundays ago, in that week’s gospel reading, Jesus gave Simon a new name: Peter, meaning “rock.” Simon means “hearer” but, when the disciple recognized Jesus as the Messiah and “the Son of the living God,” the hearer became the foundation rock upon which the new church would be built. In last Sunday’s gospel, however, Jesus called the same disciple “Satan!” and a “stumbling block.” What happened that caused the man given the “keys to the kingdom” to become a tool for Satan?
Following Peter’s confession of faith, Jesus began to tell his disciples the implication of His Messiahship. He clearly described His suffering and death at the hands of the Jewish high court. Unfortunately, like the rest of the disciples, Peter was still thinking the Messiah had come to provide economic and political relief for the Jews. Knowing that an earthly kingdom would never happen with a dead Messiah, he told Jesus, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” [16:22] Peter’s words represented a stumbling block to Jesus. Like Satan’s temptations earlier in Matthew, they tempted Jesus to thwart God’s plan and achieve greatness without suffering and death. He roundly rebuked the disciple for wanting to put man’s plan ahead of God’s.
After last Sunday’s service, I wondered whether I am a rock—the solid person that can be relied upon, the one who encourages and can be trusted to hold things together, the firm foundation who supports those who are weak and lifts those who fall—or a stumbling block. Do I have a rock solid faith that is willing to follow God’s plan even when I don’t like or understand it? Or, am I more of a stumbling block—one who discourages, hinders progress, or causes doubt? Even unintentionally, do I encourage others to sin or misstep? Does my hypocrisy or less than stellar behavior ever hinder someone’s faith? Do I obstruct or reject God’s plan like a stumbling block or do I align my will with His as does a rock?
With Peter we see how easy it is to unwittingly move from being a rock to a stumbling block. He erred by assessing the situation from his viewpoint rather than God’s. Having just proclaimed Jesus as the Son of the living God, Peter should have known that God had the situation firmly in control and that the only plan that mattered was God’s! Like Peter, we can all be rocks. It is our choice, however, as to whether we’ll be rocks that serve as stepping stones to further God’s purpose or as stumbling blocks to His plan or the faith of others.