Sunday, September 6, 2015

Not Far Enough Behind

Get behind me, Satan. Except in the context of Mark 8, gospel reading for Proper 19B/Ordinary 24B/Pentecost 16, Satan is really Peter. The speaker is Jesus, and he is chastising Peter for tempting him to do less, to be less than he is. Even if the "less" would be easier on Jesus.

But what happens if Satan isn't far enough behind?

Luca Signorelli created a fresco cycle for the cathedral in Orvieto, Italy, that features a panel titled "Sermon and Deeds of the Antichrist". In front of a classical-style building the Antichrist preaches while horrors and supernatural events take place all around. But the Antichrist does not speak his own words. Standing right behind him is Satan, whispering in the ear of the Antichrist, prompting the words to be preached, bringing horror and terror to the world.

Luca Signorelli. Sermon and Deeds of the Antichrist. Chapel of S. Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto, Italy. 1499-1502. 
For the Cathedral, see http://www.opsm.it/duomo/019_3.html
Though his facial features are similar to what we normally see of Jesus, Signorelli's Antichrist has been identified with Florentine friar Girolama Savonarola - overthrower of the Medici in Florence, apocalyptic preacher, participant in bonfires of the vanities. Savonarola was burned and hanged in May of 1498, having reached (and passed) the pinnacle of his power and influence just before Luca began the Orvieto frescoes.

Peter's words to Jesus in the gospel reading may seem harmless on the surface. Who would want their friend to suffer and die as Jesus has predicted he must? Even Jesus would pray that the cup would pass from him. But God's plan is God's plan. So not only do those voices contrary to God's plan and God's will need to be behind us, they need to be far enough behind that we cannot hear them whispering in our ear. 

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