In our Gospel today, Jesus is castigating Peter for not thinking like God, but as human beings do. If I were Peter, I would probably have reacted to Jesus and said, “Good heavens, Jesus, how else do you expect me to think, except as a human being?” E tao lang naman ako! Is Jesus really expecting his disciples to be able to think like God? Is that even possible at all?
Actually, this Gospel reminds me of that oracle in Isaiah chapter 55 where the prophet’s message to the people comes close to what Jesus is saying to Peter. In v. 8 of that oracle, he says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways… For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways,my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
Take note, the prophet is saying this precisely because he is disappointed in the people’s behavior. He is actually admonishing them to strive to know the mind of God. In the earlier verse, he says, “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their way, and sinners their thoughts; Let them turn to the LORD to find mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving.” Meaning, the prophet is in fact expressing an expectation that is similar to that which Jesus is saying to Peter: strive to know the mind of God. But can we really do that?
Actually, there is nothing surprising about this expectation at all. Remember, both Isaiah and Jesus go by the presupposition that we are creatures in God’s image and likeness. Meaning, even if we are human, it is possible for us to think like God.
Isaiah seems to presuppose that that is precisely what his mission as a prophet is all about—namely, to proclaim God’s Word so that God’s thoughts can permeate the minds and hearts of the Israelite people. That is what he says in v.10-11 of that same chapter: “Yet just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me empty, but shall do what pleases me, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
For his part, Jesus is basically expressing the same thing through his reaction to the answers of his disciples to his questions: who do people say I am and who do you say that I am? Recall what they said in answer to the first question: “Some say you are John the Baptist. Others say Elijah. Still others say one of the prophets.” Meaning, like the prophets. The prophets were their examples of people who knew the mind of God.
Why? Because the prophets were people who spoke on behalf of God. How could they do that if they did not know how to listen to God’s thoughts? They could end up proclaiming only their own thoughts and personal opinions, and not God’s will if they did not spend time to listen to God in prayer.
Perhaps they regarded Jesus as a prophet because they also saw him as a man of prayer. It was part of his daily routine to withdraw into solitude and his disciples asked to be mentored by him, not just in understanding the Scriptures but also in praying. Once, they even came to him with a request, LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY.
There were also other people in his time who claimed to be prophets but were regarded as FALSE PROPHETS. In the discernment of people they proclaimed only their own thoughts, ideas, and opinions, not the Lord’s.
We too are called to be prophetic in our own times. It is one of the three aspects of Christian life: priestly, prophetic and kingly. We cannot help other people to understand God’s will (God’s thoughts) if we don’t learn the discipline that is most essential in the life of a prophet: PRAYER.
And now we go to the answer to the second question, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter says, “You are the Christ.” And he is correct. But what does it mean to him? Peter would actually express his mind on the statement he has just made through his actuation or behavior after hearing from Jesus what was bound to happen to him in Jerusalem.
For Peter, the Messiah was the promised savior who would bring about salvation. But he expects it to be selective or conditional: salvation for the righteous and damnation for sinners. As simple as that.
Not so for Jesus. Jesus is talking about salvation even for sinners. Like Isaiah, he believes that mercy is what is in the mind and heart of God. But for this, he has to pay the price. What he desires is not just the salvation of the righteous but the REDEMPTION of both the righteous and the sinners, the deserving and undeserving alike. And he invites his disciples to think like God. But then again, like him, they have to ready to PAY THE PRICE.
Jesus knew that when Peter blocked his way to Jerusalem, it was not really Peter himself but Satan at work in Peter, trying to block the path of redemption. It was Satan who was trying to prevent Peter from thinking God’s thoughts. Very patiently Jesus instructs them again to take part in the Son of man’s mission of redemption.
His purpose was precisely to teach his disciples to “think like God.” That is why he insisted on the need to develop the discipline of prayer. Prayer attunes us to God’s voice. We can be more easily tricked by Satan if we are not familiar with God’s voice. We will be unable to distinguish among the many “voices” that we hear within us. And that is what we often call discernment.
Here’s how Jesus mentors Peter about the “mind of god,” with regard to their mission: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”
Homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 12 September 2021, Mk 8:27-35