A quarterback is a leader on a team but you can imagine that if a quarterback took over leadership of a team and placed himself before the coach of the team, who has carefully chosen a game plan, the coach would very quickly pull the quarterback aside and remind him that he must follow the game plan if he is to be an effective leader. The leadership of the quarterback comes not from his own plans but from obeying the coach and carefully following the game plan that the coach has devised. The quarterback must sacrifice his own ego and be in service to the team and the objectives of the coach. Through his statement of faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, which has been revealed to him, not through human wisdom and learning but from God, Peter has been given leadership in the Church. Peter is chosen to be the quarterback on the team of the Church that is to be built on his statement of faith. Having been chosen to be the leader, Peter immediately gets out in front of the team and begins to think that he knows better how to lead the team than its coach, Jesus. Jesus has received the game plan from the Father and he shares for the first time how the game plan involves his sacrifice on the cross, his victory over death and his resurrection to a new life of glory. This appears to Peter to be a foolish plan and he lets Jesus know it. Peter goes very quickly from being a foundation stone and a building block of the Church to being a stumbling block and an obstacle to Christ’s victory over death. Jesus very quickly takes ahold of Peter and says to him,“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Mt 16,23)
We cannot fault Peter too much because he is thinking as the world thinks. We all have a grave tendency to see things and to think as the world thinks. We often think that we know better than God how things should go in our lives. But God does not see things as man sees them. God tells Samuel the prophet, “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” (1Sam 16,7) God sees things from the vantage point of love and there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life. Jesus presents to the disciples the great paradox of life that involves the cross: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “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 will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mt 16, 24ff) True value in God’s mind lies in self-emptying love. We need to learn to think as God thinks, not as the world thinks. What good would there be if a quarterback put up great personal numbers but ended up forfeiting the game for the team.
St. Paul tells the Corinthians: “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. Now the natural person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone. For “who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” (1Cor 2,12-16) We cannot hope to counsel the Lord but we can trade in our worldly mind for the mind of Christ and learn to think as God thinks.
The cross is a paradox to the world because it is a stumbling block, as Peter discovers, and appears to be foolishness to the worldly mind that seeks to save itself. Paul tells us, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.” Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1Cor 1,18-25)
Put your faith in God and his plans. Humbly take up the cross. Get behind Jesus and follow him, so that you might be able to say with St. Paul: “But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6,14) Be a building block, not a stumbling block!