Scripture Readings: Prophet Isaiah 22:15,19-23; Letter to the Romans 11:33-36; Gospel According to Saint Matthew 16:13-20
In the Gospel passage for this Sunday, Jesus poses a crucial question to his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” The question implies that opinions about Jesus circulating at the time, admirable as at least some of them might be, do not encompass the unique nature of who Jesus is and what is his mission on earth. The question is addressed to those who should “know better,” we might say, his closest collaborators, who have been with Jesus for a prolonged period of time.
Peter, in the name of the group of followers of Jesus, replies to the question. He declares that Jesus is not simply a person sent with a saving mission, as important as that is, but is in fact the long-awaited Messiah, whose coming to earth is God’s definitive saving act. No one before or since the coming of Jesus into the world has been or will ever be considered on a par with the “Son of the Living God.” That title is reserved to Jesus alone, for all times and for all people.
Declaring that Jesus is the “Son of the Living God,” Peter stresses the special incomparable relationship of Jesus to God the Father, which determines the nature of Jesus’ authority and mission as the Messenger and the one bestowing salvation, as Jesus is also God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
In the light of the Resurrection, the unique relationship of Jesus to the Father is perfected. That means the “Son of the Living God” can be experienced by the disciples of the Lord as the source of all life and the only Savior. This is what Jesus wants his first followers, as well as us today, to recognize and accept.
Possessing the knowledge that Jesus is the Messiah and the only Son of God and Savior of the world is itself a gracious gift of the Father. Jesus stresses this fact when he proclaims: “No mere man has revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father has revealed it.” As the Father has sent Jesus into the world and gave him a mission, so too the Father has bestowed the gift of grace for us to recognize the truth of who Jesus is and what consequences that has in our daily life.
As followers of Jesus, we believe that God is constantly present and actively working with his Son and in the Holy Spirit, to transform our lives and to draw us into a living and eternal relationship with God.
Just as Peter declares: “You are the Christ,” so Jesus tells Simon Bar Jonah, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” The name “Peter,” means “rock,” and his role will be as a “rock,” on which Christ can build his Church. Giving of a new name, as Jesus does to Simon, calling him “Peter,” is a significant gesture, expressing a new reality and role, a new responsibility. From that moment, Peter became the “Head of the Apostles,” and the leader of the Church that Christ came to establish on earth.
Peter receives from Jesus a privilege which is defined by the very name of “Rock.” Peter is to be an unshakable foundation and a source of strength and desirability for the believing community, which Jesus will gather together from the ends of the earth by the shedding of his blood on the Cross. Significantly, Peter too dies on a cross as a martyr, giving his life for the sheep he has shepherded. The place where the Vatican now stands was the place where Peter was crucified, though upside down, since he expressed his unworthiness to die in the manner of the Master.
Jesus goes on to assure Peter that his authority in the Church will be recognized and respected in the life to come, what we call Heaven, at the time of judgement, when the Son of the Living God returns again. In the light of the power given to Peter, the Church must continually present the teaching of Jesus and celebrate the Sacraments he instituted during his public ministry. This work is still a vital aspect of the role of the Church, in bestowing God’s grace upon the faithful.
This Sunday’s Gospel passage is a reminder that we must all respond to the question of Jesus: “You, who do you say that I am?” Our response must go beyond words, to a living faith and commitment to the “things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3.3). We are beings of “flesh and blood,” but we are destined for supernatural existence, which is present here and now, and fulfilled after our earthly sojourn is complete.
In the second reading for Mass this Sunday, Saint Paul expresses deep wonder about three things: the riches, the wisdom and knowledge of God. The mystery of God’s Providence is an unending source of reflection and marvel for Saint Paul, and hopefully for us as well.
The “riches of God” is understood by Saint Paul as God’s boundless goodness, which means it has no limits and extends to everyone. “God’s wisdom” is understood as the way God directs circumstances and history, so that the Gospel is spread to the very ends of the earth. Finally, the “knowledge of God” means that God’s love has no need of counselors or advisors, for whatever God does is inspired and motivated first and always by love, from where all wisdom comes.
We should always give thanks to God for our faith and for the Church, where we find strength to carry on and persevere through thick and thin. We are never alone or left to our own devises. For this we can all say: thanks be to God, as well as, O God, come to my assistance, O Lord, make haste to help me!
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB