Get Behind Me, Satan!

“Get behind me, Satan!”

The words from yesterday’s gospel reading seem like a strange overreaction of Jesus. After all, Peter was just trying to tell him that He didn’t have to go through the cross, which seems to me like a perfectly reasonable suggestion! Then, to liken St. Peter to Satan? Ouch! Take a look at what happens:

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Why would Jesus seem to see Satan lurking in His disciple, Peter, especially since only a moment before, Jesus promised the keys of Heaven to Peter?

Yet, this made me think of Christ’s actual encounter with Satan himself. After all, Jesus encountered Satan before. After being baptized, Christ went to the desert for forty days, after which he was tempted by Satan.

Much art has been made of this temptation, but I would love to focus on this stunning picture by Duccio. Satan looks just as He is; a fallen angel, dark and wild from living on the Earth. He points to the kingdoms of the earth from on high, but Jesus sends him away. And, in the meantime, angels who are still aligned with God, wait for Jesus to be finished defeating Satan in this particular battle so they can minister to Him as soon as Jesus is ready for them.

The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, c. 1308-11. The Frick Collection Museum, New York, New York, United States. Via IllustratedPrayer.com
The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, c. 1308-11. The Frick Collection Museum, New York, New York, United States.

In this particular temptation, Satan tries his luck tempting Jesus with three things that most humans would easily fall for: food, safety, and power. Take a look at this gospel:

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At this particular moment, Jesus has been fasting for forty days in the desert. He’s probably at the point where he is near starving. Most people would do anything for food at this point. After all, in the Old Testament (Genesis 25:29-34, to be exact!), Esau gave up his birthright to Jacob for a hunk of bread and a bowl of lentil soup, just because he was hungry. Was that a mistake? Well… yes. By demanding food at that very minute, he pretty much doomed his path of life, since he cast away his claim to the birthright. Which, in effect, meant he was casting off his entire family and everything he had worked for his entire life. And for what? A hunk of bread and a bowl of lentil soup.

But Jesus refuses this offer of food.

And then there’s safety. Most people want to be safe, and they will do everything in their power to keep safe. In the novel, 1984, towards the end of the book, Winston betrays Julie, his lover, friend, and confidant. And why? Because he doesn’t like rats. He really, really doesn’t like rats. And Big Brother knows this. So, they threaten to release rats on Winston… and he finally breaks down and begs for them to do it to Julie instead. Why would he betray her? Because of safety. He wants to be safe. And he would do anything to stay safe, no matter how much it will destroy another person.

But Jesus refuses this offer of safety.

And then power. In many video games, there is a certain cheat built into the game called “god-mode” which gives the player the ultimate power in the video game — invincibility and the ability to destroy any of the enemies that need to be destroyed. Why is it called “god-mode”? Because it is assumed that if one has the ultimate power of invincibility and destruction, one would wield that power for their own means.

But Jesus refuses this offer of power.

Mind you, wanting food, safety, and power, by itself, is not bad. One can wish to eat, wish to live in safety, and wish to be the chairman of the PTA board without following Satan.

But, to go the extremes… to cast aside everything good in your life to be able to eat. To wish for safety to such a great extent that you are willing to destroy another person, if it means that you are kept safe. To yield ultimate power to destroy anyone you wish. These are desires that come from Satan.

Now, let’s go back to Peter, who draws Jesus aside and suggests that Jesus does not have to go through the suffering and death that Jesus fully intends to do. Why? Because Peter knows that Jesus is God. And Peter believes that, since Jesus is God, Jesus doesn’t have to suffer. He can be safe. He can be powerful. He need not suffer and die at all. He can just go “god-mode” on everyone.

And, in this way, Peter is suggesting the very same temptations that Satan had previously tempted Jesus with.

But Jesus does not want to win the world. If He had, perhaps He would have taken up Satan’s offer.

Instead, Jesus wants to unite us to Him so that we may be united with God, who is love. And so He urges His disciples to take up their cross and follow Him. And, in doing so, He encourages us to do the same.

And, spoiler alert? Through this cross, Jesus is able to destroy the hold of Satan has on all of us — and adopt us as His own.

Dear Jesus,

Thank You for showing us how to defeat Satan by taking up our crosses and following You. Grant us the wisdom to be able to discern what is good for us according to Your Word and the strength to follow You.

Amen.

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of three, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer

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