ROCK OR STUMBLING BLOCK? : ‘Get Thee Behind Me, Satan’ by James Tissot

It is a moment of jubilation. The disciples are buzzing with excitement after having been part of the revelatory moment. The identity of Christ is revealed and affirmed. He indeed is the Messiah. But the messianic plan of God could not be completely comprehended. In the following verses Jesus throws a bombshell announcing His suffering and salvific mission.

Christ, the Messiah, would not be praised but rejected, not be crowned but executed. He would not hail the porticos of Jerusalem but die on a humble cross. However on the third day He would rise again.  This was too much to digest. How could the Messiah be the one to undergo suffering and be killed? It was contrary to the Jewish hope and expectation.

Peter, the spokesperson for the twelve, calls Jesus aside and chastises him, ‘Never Lord! No, this must never happen to you.’ Jesus response is anything but subtle, ‘Get behind me Satan!’, he says. ‘You are a stumbling block to me. Your thoughts are not from God but from man.’

James Tissot frames this narrative in today’s painting. The scene is taken from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 16, verse 22 and 23. Amidst the dry and rugged terrain, Jesus is displayed traversing the trying path to Jerusalem, the city where the prophets are killed. (Mt: 23: 37).

While Christ determined feet plunge forward, his left hand withholds the ‘stumbling block.’ Peter, his hands raised upwards, staggers backwards, balancing himself. To the left are the rest of the apostles, perplexed.

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