When Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” he is asking them what they tell others about him. Peter chimes up, “You are the Messiah.” Of course, two seconds later he tells Peter, “Get behind me Satan.” Change of heart? I don’t think so. What I think is that Jesus wasn’t entirely comfortable with Peter’s answer. I think that because he sternly tells the disciples not to tell anyone.
The word messiah comes from the Hebrew word meaning “anointed.” In ancient Judaism the word tended only to apply to the Davidic kings and the High Priest. Following the exile however, new ideas emerged about what a messiah would be like. Having endured generations of exile and ruin, an image of a vindicating king who would smite Israel’s oppressors and restore a never-ending kingdom began to emerge.
While I don’t think Jesus rejected Peter’s answer, I also don’t think he wanted to create the expectation that he was that kind of messiah. His announcement that the Son of Man would have to be rejected, suffer, die and be resurrected was intended to indicate what kind of a messiah he was. Peter’s disappointment was just the sort of thing Jesus sought to avoid.
In fact, Jesus is pretty much the opposite of the conquering king messiah; his power does not come from armies and weapons. He pushes the disciples to think beyond this world’s vision of power and authority, to gain the things that can only be gained by giving them away.
As we observe the 14th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, here is the familiar prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226):
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.