Mark 8:27-35, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Was Peter so evil that Jesus suddenly called him Satan? Wasn’t he dissuading the Lord from returning to Jerusalem because there, his enemies would do him serious harm? Peter felt so vehemently against Jesus’ plan that the Gospel used quite a strong word: “Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him.” Rebuke, sinita,sinaway niya si Hesus; malamang, may kasama pang pagbabanta. Maybe something like this: “Lord, ano ka ba? Haler! Alam n’yo namang pinag-iinitan na kayo sa Herusalem. Bakit pa kayo babalik doon?” But Jesus smashed Peter’s rebuke with a counter-rebuke: “Satanas ka!” or“Diablo ka! Umalis ka d’yan sa harap ko.”
Have you seen the movie, The Exorcist? They say that this 1973 film set the standard for future movies about demonic possession. Watch The Exorcist and you’ll realize how all possession movies after that either built on it or paled in comparison to it. But see, I bet even our notion of the devil is influenced by The Exorcist. For don’t we now imagine that someone possessed by Satan changes his voice, for instance? Or he vomits green stuff, or levitates? He has telekinesis, too, and turns crucifixes upside down, and sets the Bible on fire, and leaks the dirty secrets of the priest. Finally, the demon smashes priests against walls or send them flying through glass windows, plunging them to their deaths. Isn’t that how we imagine satanic activity today? Very cinematic, very dramatic, horror-movie-plus-action/drama rolled into one exhausting but entertaining flick?
But has it ever occurred to us that, maybe, this is exactly what the devil would have us believe? That possession is always very cinematic and intensely dramatic—so that while we’re looking for him in all that drama, he gets behind us and manipulates us, undetected, subtle, quiet, patient, but true and constant in his tempting. He camouflages himself as an “angel”, a good spirit, light. Like a “good shepherd,” he leads us to what certainly looks like a good place. But we end up self-seeking, self-entitled, greedy, and power-hungry; a cold, dark pit dug from the soil of our egos.
So what was so demonic in Peter’s rebuke of Jesus that it earned him the title, “Satan”? It wasn’t so much that Peter was goading Jesus into doing something evil. It was more subtle than that, less dramatic, but quite alluring. “Don’t go to Jerusalem, Lord. The place crawls with your disdainful enemies. They’ll only mock you there. They’ll spin malice out of your words and deeds, bear false witness against you, give you a ‘bad evaluation’ to the authorities. Dito ka na lang, Lord. Stay away from Jerusalem. You’re safer here. Mas mabango pangalan mo rito!Sabi nga nila si John the Baptist ka, ‘di ba? Elijah pa nga! Sikat ka dito! Dito na ka na lang. Dito na lang tayo.” That, sisters and brothers, must have been the “satanic” principle that Jesus found lurking behind Peter’s rebuke.
The principle of Christ, on the other hand, is not so much fearlessness in the face of persecution, suffering, and death. God gave us all the natural impulse to protect ourselves and our loved ones from pain and destruction. Jesus himself jostled free of his enemies several times when they erupted in violence against him. So, maybe here is what Jesus finds “satanic”: when we systematically arrange and manage our lives so we’re always on the safe side, always on the convenient side—the side where we’re sure that helping the poor, for example, would not entail having to meet them or talk to them or visit them where they live; the side where we’re sure that fighting for the truth would not be turned around to blackmail us; the side where we’re sure that our support of the just person, the honest candidate, the moral choice would not be trolled. Otherwise, we would not “go to Jerusalem, where we will greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed….” So, while we stay safe and dry and stress-free, we slowly become “satanic,” accomplices to what is “not of God,” complicit to the poor never receiving what is due them, to lies being told and retold until they sound true, to justice being killed by both political as well as religious authorities. So, we become “satanic” not so much because Satan succeeds in making us actually do evil, but in making us cold to doing the inconvenient but greater good.
We’ve always had the impression that hell is fairly hot because of eternal fire, thanks to the opinion of Saint Augustine. But Dante Alighieri had another idea of hell in his Inferno. The center of hell, he said, is not hot…but very, very cold. It is where Satan beats his wings constantly, to blow frigid wind that keeps souls frozen.
*image from the Internet