Peter as Satan

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalms 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

St. Peter the Apostle by Paul Reubens

Truth in advertizing – after all the glowing reports of the benefits of a product, potential side effects need to be mentioned.  Informed consent – before surgery, patients have to be told of all the things that could possibly go wrong.  That way, they have the chance to opt out before it’s too late.

As soon had the truth came out at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus was the Messiah, the Lord made clear the unpleasant implications for his followers.  When first century Jews thought of the Messiah, they thought of God’s anointed, David, gloriously triumphing over the Philistines and just about everyone else.  They thought about the peace and prosperity of the empire ruled by Solomon.

Jesus knew that the end of the story would be even more glorious than this – eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.  But he also knew that the way to such triumph was the way of the cross, and that anyone who wanted to be his disciple needed to follow him on this via dolorosa.

Jesus had just named him “prime minister” by calling him “the rock” and giving him the keys.  So Peter felt it entirely his place to pull the king aside and advise him to take a different road.  As he had been praised by the Master, now he is rebuked.  Jesus goes so far as to call him “Satan.”  That’s a far cry from “the Rock!”

Some have pointed to this as proof that Peter, and his papal successors, are not infallible as Catholics claim.  But actually, this illustrates well what the Catholic Church teaches about the subject.  For Catholic doctrine does not proclaim that the pope can never make a mistake in personal judgment.  It is only when he fully engages his authority as successor of Peter speaking from Peter’s seat of authority (ex cathedra) that the Church guarantees him to be acting under the charism of truth given by the Father through the Spirit.  When Peter publicly proclaimed “you are the Christ,” Jesus pointed out that this was not from him, but from the Father.  When Peter privately said, “God forbid that you should suffer,” Jesus notes that the source of this was himself.  And what’s worse, this human opinion was being used by a diabolic manipulator to tempt the Lord to choose comfort and honor over suffering and sacrifice.

Jesus will have none of it, of course.  After all, He is the truth incarnate.  And the truth is that glory comes only after sacrifice.  And His own incomparable sacrifice will not make things easy for his disciples, but will blaze the trail of sacrifice that they too must walk.  The sacrifice that he will offer will be Himself.  The sacrifice they will be called to offer will be similar: “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship.”  (Romans 12:1-2).

Peter couldn’t quite get it.  None of them could.  This is entirely understandable.  During the ministry of Jesus the apostles here and there experienced a passing inspiration from the Holy Spirit, but that Creator Spirit had not yet taken up residence within them.  That only came when the fire descended on them in the upper room.  Before Pentecost, they ran from suffering.  After Pentecost they run towards it.  Peter, who denied Jesus, ultimately gave his life for him.  A successor of Peter, John Paul II, preached his most eloquent sermon by continuing to serve in the twilight years of his life, a living witness of loving self-giving which is a fruit of Pentecost.

Truth in advertizing.  Salvation is a free gift of grace, but it will cost you everything.  When faithfulness to Jesus brings ridicule rather than applause, don’t complain like Jeremiah.  Jesus makes clear the cost of discipleship up front.  But he also reminds us that the pearl of great price is worth anything we have to pay for it.


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources or info on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit or call 1.800.803.0118.

This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor as a reflection on the Mass readings 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A). It is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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