A Reflection for today’s solemnity
By Fr. Ric Chinchilla, CJM
Two apostles with diametrically different styles, but called by the same Jesus (Peter met him physically, and Paul met him spiritually). Their origins and background did not disqualify them from being called. On one side of the spectrum, Paul was a talented young man, so zealous in his faith to the point of directing evil punishments over those who did not think or agree with the demands of Jewish requirements at the time. On the other side of the spectrum, Peter was a simple family man with a small business as a fisherman, who had the fire to excel as a disciple but lacked the substance in the crucial moments.
Still, it will be the grace of God working in them, which will catapult them into unknown territory, and with their trust in the Lord, they will accept the challenge and become pillars in our earthly church.
They will become loved and respected spiritual fathers in the early Christian community, but both will develop a humble and profound spiritual demeanor becoming trustworthy witnesses, even to death.
The Gospel today taken from Matthew puts the accent on the profession of faith expressed by Peter, which summarizes both for himself and St Paul what they believed and preached.
The evangelist Matthew shows us how Jesus has been progressively educating his disciple Peter in the faith (Saul will also have a processual growth from the Jesus he once persecuted, into the Christ he later proclaimed in the book of Acts of the Apostles).
This progressive growth in our Christian life is necessary if we want to be real disciples; the notion that automatic and instant discipleship exists is not real.
The disciple has to renew his commitment every day. Each one of us has to reflect often trying to search for the footsteps of Jesus, the mark of his love within us, his daily call to us.
For example, when have you noticed that Jesus was teaching you something through a specific event or experience? Have you internalized what Jesus wanted you to learn? What you learned from that experience, has it become a new tool for you? With a positive response to these questions, you are therefore having a Peter and Paul moment. The opposite could be to remain stuck in the past wishing I could be a disciple but not reading the signs of the times.
Now let's read into the conversation in today's reading between Jesus and his disciples; the structure is as follows:
I.- An introduction is describing location: Mt. 16,13ª.
It names the place, Caesarea Philippi, which is a Roman city. Jesus and the disciples are around that region.
II.- First question: Mt. 16,13b-14
- Jesus asks his disciples (16,13b): Who do people say that the Son of Man is?
- The disciples tell Jesus that the people compare him with four characters (16,14); all of those names represent the old models (It's what they know). Reminiscing about the old is always a temptation. Still, it will not solve the problem of humanity today (Do you have new wine? Then, you need new wineskins), therefore this response has a limited perspective. We need to remember that Jesus is not dead, we are not honoring a dead person.
Our Lord is alive, his Holy Spirit renews and refreshes our soul; our Eucharistic celebrations let his word become flesh in us only to feed us his body and blood, the true nourishment of the soul.
III.- Second Question: Who do you say that I am? : Mt. 16, 15
Peter takes the lead and responds with two definitions, but they are preceded by "YOU ARE"; let's see them and reflect on their meaning.
"You are the Messiah, the son of the living God !"
This response has two directions:
A – In reference to humanity = YOU ARE "THE MESSIAH."
The theology of the time was waiting for a definite person (not many but one); he will be the anointed one, with enough power to complete the tasks left unfinished.
So, Peter tells Jesus, "you are the one," the last and definitive king and Shepherd of the people of Israel, sent by God to give his people and all humanity the fullness of life (as seen in the multiplication of the loaves and the other miracles).
So, Peter is saying: Humanity should rejoice, the fulfillment of their prayers, and hope is in Jesus.
B – In reference to God the Father = YOU ARE THE "SON OF THE LIVING GOD."
"You are the Son" means that Jesus lives in a unique, and very particular relationship with God, he is a "Son" characterized by reciprocal knowledge, equality, and the communion of love between the Father and him; and now also among the disciples (see Matthew 11:27: "I give you thanks Father...")
The God that Jesus reveals to us through his life and actions has the title of "living God," which means that he is "the only God," the true and real God, who is life itself, who created everything, whose immense power overcomes death.
But when Peter says that Jesus is the son of the living God, he is revealing what he sees in the daily life of Jesus, which lets them see the real face of the Father-God. That is to say: Jesus is the only Messiah who, deeply linked to the vital power itself, to the living God, can grant humanity real well-being, integral and harmonious growth, and the fullness of existence.
This gift of life, Jesus will make it evident through his self-giving on the Cross. The instrument of death and horror changed now into a sign of life.
But why did Jesus not reveal this reality at that precise moment and spare the waiting?
Well, the disciples needed to keep "the silence of expectation" until the final revelation of the messianism and the divine filiation of Jesus at the crucifixion.
Peter was not appreciative of the moments when Jesus spoke about the Cross; but once he lived the whole process and experienced the resurrection, then all the pieces were there to build his strong post-Easter faith.
Which means that you have to live the whole process in your life, don't look or wish for shortcuts; every moment, happy, bland or sad will have a grace within it that will make the presence of Jesus evident, we need those precious moments to build a lasting and robust house, solid because it was built upon the Rock.
IV. Jesus responds to Peter's Statement: You are… !
The crescendo starts:
A - The scripture puts some context to what happened; Jesus addresses Peter with his given name and with his patronymic (Father's name) to indicate:
- His full human reality: "Simon."
- His origin and history: "Son of Jonah."
At this point, we remember when Jesus said: "Even all the hairs of your head are counted" (Mt. 10,30)
Psalm 139, 1-4: “Lord, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, Lord, you know it all”
God knows every aspect of your life, the good, the wonderful, and the not so beautiful moments, and it is departing from that reality of your true self, that now you reach a highlight, you recognize God in a face to face experience.
Peter was not born Saint Peter; it is in the relationship with Jesus that the diamond in his heart starts shining. Mother Teresa was not born Saint Mother Teresa; we more or less witnessed how she went from one end to other (not a comfortable journey).
And you? Can you give thanks for everything that happened in your life? Can you walk through the high and low moments in your life? And then, forgive, accept while embracing, and lastly, give thanks. What is to come has not yet been revealed, but he who began the good work in you will surely complete it (Fil 1, 6)
The "Simon, son of Jonah," describes where I came from and who I am now (no shame, nor glory), but who will I become, will depend on my willingness to follow and listen to Jesus.
B – Then Jesus reveals to him the extraordinary gift that made this confession possible: the heavenly Father gave him this knowledge (see 11:27; 17:5), which cannot be attained by human means alone. Simon has not only been called by Jesus but has also been privileged by the Father, and therefore has every reason to be "Blessed," that is, "Happy!
C – The revelation of who Peter will be: You are…
Jesus gives him a new name. To the "You are" said by Simon to Jesus, now Jesus responds with another "You are" and declares his new identity: "You are Peter," that is, "Rock." This term did not appear anywhere before as a person's name; it is a new creation of Jesus. For Simon, a new life begins.
D – New Job
With his new existence, now Jesus gives him a new responsibility (as in Gen 17:5,15; Num 13:16; 2 Kings 24:17). With three images, Jesus describes the unique tasks of the apostle:
- The Rock: a rock on which Jesus will build his Church. The Church is presented as the community of those who express the same confession of faith as Peter. Peter must give consistency and firmness to this community of faith. For his part, Jesus promises the community - the house built on it - a perennial duration and solidity (see the prophecy of 2 Samuel 7:1-17).
- The Keys: This doesn’t mean that Peter is appointed the doorman of heaven but the administrator who represents the owner of the house to others and who acts by delegation. This image appears on Isaiah 22:15-25, and it describes the appointment of Eliakim as prime minister to King Hezekiah of Judah. The image reinforces that Jesus remains the "Lord of the Church."
Peter is not assigned to this ministry to exclude or decide who is deserving according to his taste. He follows the directives of the master; Jesus is the Lord of the Church.
Jesus allowed Peter, despite severe unworthiness, to enter the group of the disciples. Then, during his tenure (in charge of the keys), Peter is like a Nurse who receives the patients and gives the early cares and directions, and then presents them to the Lord, the divine doctor in the earthly hospital, the Church.
- The Binding and Loosing: this is an image that indicates the authority of Peter's teaching (see the opposite in Mt 16:12). Peter must say what is allowed and what is not allowed in the community; he has the task to welcome or exclude. The reference point of his teaching will be the same doctrine of Jesus; for example, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus has already established what is the necessary behavior to enter heaven (see 5:20; 7:21).
Although Peter's constant reference is the word of Jesus, the teaching of Peter has binding value.
Jesus is not leaving a replacement; Jesus will be present until the end of times. With his words to Peter, Jesus declares himself once again to be the Lord of the Church. Jesus is the Shepherd and never abandons her but gives her authoritative guidance. In the Church, everything comes from Jesus and points to Him. It is true; the one who builds the Church is Jesus. He is the foundation, the cornerstone. Peter has to make sure Jesus remains as his foundation, and then, "the stone," meaning Peter, must be a visible sign of unity and communion among all the disciples who confess the same faith.
Saint Ambrose rightly said: "Ubi Petrus, Ibi Ecclesia," that is, "where Peter is, There's the Church."