Staying aware of the enemy inside
By Father Jacob Dankasa
Special to The Texas Catholic
Have you ever wondered why Jesus told one of his closest friends — Peter — to “Get behind me, Satan!”? (Matthew 16:23). This was the man who had just proclaimed that Jesus was “… the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), and Jesus had responded in the presence of everyone, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father” (Matthew 16:17). But almost immediately this conversation changed, and Jesus referred to him as “Satan.” Note that this conversation occurred after Jesus had told his disciples about his coming suffering, and that it would lead to his dying on the cross. Then Peter took him aside and said, in more modern terms, “No way. Ain’t gonna happen.” Ordinarily, we should be happy with a friend who comes to us at a time of trouble and says, as Peter said to Jesus, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). But Jesus was not fooled by that gesture because, although it sounded caring and concerned, it was a voice from the Enemy.
I don’t believe that Jesus literally meant that Peter was Satan. But it’s an indication that Jesus knew at that point that Satan was speaking through one of his best friends in order to make an impact on his life, especially as it related to the cross of Christ. It had been Satan’s intention from the very beginning to thwart the cross, to stop Jesus from going to the cross. The cross terrified Satan because Satan knew the effects of the cross. Therefore, he spoke through one of Jesus’ best friends to lure him away from the cross in the name of love. Indeed, Satan knows how to go through a “bestie” to get to someone else — remember that he got to Adam through Eve.
This Jesus-Peter interaction shows us how the forces of evil are always in competition with the forces of good. Just when Jesus proclaimed that it was God who revealed to Peter that He is the Messiah, Satan came also to Peter to reveal to him something else — to prompt him to go in defense of Jesus, his friend, and not allow him to die. Jesus knew that the initial proclamation of Peter, calling him the Messiah, was the voice of God. He also knew immediately that the second proclamation of Peter, his urging Jesus not to accept the cross, was not a voice from God, but from the Enemy. This tells us how the voices of evil and good can co-exist within one and the same person in such a way that even our best friends, who mean well for us and look out for our good, can be used by Satan to deceive and mislead us. In other words, Satan can work through anyone, even the best of us. This is why discernment of the spirit is very important in every step of our lives.
The Jesus-Peter narrative, this story of how one person was both the voice of God and the voice of Satan, should help us to reflect on how the Enemy can try to use our very best people — our best friends, our relatives, etc. — to fight against our salvation and our nearness to God, and sometimes even to fight against our spiritual progress. In most cases, Satan doesn’t come in the guise of an enemy — he comes as one who cares about us, who desires the good for us, who means well. He comes to us as one who is on our side. When he went to Eve, he posed as one who cared about her future. “Did God really say you shall not eat… [if you eat] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like gods…” (Genesis 3:1-5). Even during the temptation of Jesus, he went to Jesus as one who cared, one who was concerned about Jesus’ hunger, one who was acknowledging Jesus’ power to perform miracles, one who could make Jesus an even bigger king by giving him the luxury of the whole world. But, as always, there was a catch to the gifts Satan offered. All he asked from Jesus was for him to bow down and worship him; then everything would be his. Then, when Jesus didn’t succumb to the temptations in the desert, the Gospel tells us that Satan departed from him “for a time” (Luke 4:13), only to return through one of Jesus’ friends — Peter. Recognizing this, Jesus rebuked his friend: “Get behind me, Satan.”
All Satan’s attempts were made in order to stop Jesus from accepting the cross. He didn’t succeed (Thanks be to God!) and that’s why we have Lent, a season in which we follow Jesus along the way of the cross. The cross is our salvation. As Christians going through this season, we must be especially mindful of the manipulation of Satan. He still continues to do all in his power to be sure we do not acknowledge or follow the cross. This season gives us the opportunity to do more for the Lord, to carry the burden that Jesus carried, to give up evil for good, to maintain our determination to remain holy, and to be sure to recognize Satan when he comes to us, in whatever disguise he wears.
Lent is a journey toward the discovery of who we are as people of God and why we should remain as such. May the spirit of Lent help us to live a life of greater commitment to the faith — now, and beyond Lent.
Father Jacob Dankasa is the pastor of Holy Family of Nazareth Catholic Church in Irving.