24th August 2014.
Matthew: 16: 13-20
Dcn Tony van Vuuren
The lingering question to ask ourselves after listening to the selection of readings is the same one that Jesus asks the disciples in the gospel reading. His second question is, “But who do you say that I am?” In other words, who is Jesus to us in our daily lives?
This seems like a simple question, but the answer should profoundly influence who we are and what we do and not do. While it is important to know Church teaching and use it as a guideline, ultimately, we have to look deep inside ourselves for our answer rather than anywhere else.
The second question that Jesus asks invites his followers to take a personal stand and Peter answers for all of them: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus was, in fact, asking his disciples about his relationship to God, on the one hand, and his relationship to the human race, on the other.
It comes over pretty clearly from the picture that Matthew gives of Peter that Jesus chose him as the leader of the disciples not because of any great leadership skills that he showed or because he was a particularly charismatic personality, but because he had faith: the insight to discern Jesus’ identity as the Saviour.
Peter’s faith didn’t spring up overnight. It had grown since his first meeting with Jesus three years before; and that’s the way God’s influence usually works on people – changing us slowly, deepening our faith and making us more like him.
Peter’s position as the leader of the twelve Apostles is shown in many narratives in the Gospels, but they also do not spare him, clearly showing high and low points in his life.
If we were to make a thumbnail sketch of some of Peter’s characteristics based on the Gospels, I think these will highlight his personality:
A sharp self-awareness of sin (Luke 5:8)
When Peter first met Jesus he said – “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
The paralysis of fear (Matthew 14:29-31)
When Peter got out of the boat and beginning to sink he cried out – “Lord, save me!”
A Blessed insight (Matthew 16:16)
Simon Peter replied – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
A temper (Matthew 16:21-23)
Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying – “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
Bedazzled (Matthew 17:4)
The Transfiguration: “I will make three booths here”
Mortal and weary. (Mark 14:37)
Jesus said to Peter – “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?”
Broken, fallen. (Matthew 26:69)
“But he denied it before them all, saying — I do not know the man.”
The most important question and answer. (John 21:15-17)
He said to him the third time — Do you love me? “Lord you know that I love you. Jesus said to him — Feed my sheep.”
Peter’s lowest point would be when he denied knowing Jesus and probably his finest moments would be when he recognized Jesus as Christ the Son of Man as in today’s Gospel reading, together with his declaration of love for Jesus during the last earthly interaction between them as recorded in John’s Gospel; “Do you love me?”
The interaction and dialogue that we see between Jesus and Peter today and in John’s Gospel may be the most important reason why it is upon Peter that the church will be built. In short, it has nothing to do with being worthy and everything to do with faith and the capacity to sincerely love Jesus.
At some moment, life will put the question to us, “Who do you say Jesus is?” It might be a moment of testing when we need to choose between doing right or wrong. It might be a transition time when we are leaving home to set off on our own; and we must own the choices we make. On what values and on whom will we base those choices? We will need to make our own, the faith we received from our parents and our church. Being listed on the baptismal registry of our parish is not enough.
When we do answer the question, “But who do you say I am?’ from our own conviction and exemplify our response by our actions, then we will know Jesus, no longer as an object of obligation and custom, but with the conviction Jesus looked for in his disciples.
By Peter responding — You are the Christ, the Son of the living God– he declares Jesus to be chosen; to be the Son of God — the Living God as opposed to the dead, false gods of his time.
And that should be our answer too: Jesus chosen as our Lord and saviour.
Jesus the completely human, and completely divine Son of God. God, our living God, who we should worship above all other competing forces and desires in our lives.
Putting this answer into action is to help build up the Church upon the rock that is Peter. If Peter is the rock, the foundation, then we are the small stones, the building material, helping to support the structure of the living Church.
How will we do this? What are we doing to be supportive, to be constructive, to be generous, and to love?
When called upon; let us never say – “Who me? I am not worthy! You must surely mean someone else; for I am very self-aware of my sin, I am paralyzed by fear, I have a temper, I am only mortal and often too tired, I am sometimes broken and fallen”
Well, so was Peter!
What made Peter stand out was his great love for Jesus and it is this love that changes the world and builds up the Church and builds the kingdom of God.
So let us hear both of these questions from Jesus this weekend: “Who do you say that I am?” and, “Do you love me?”
Jesus does not ask – “Will you ever sin again?” Jesus does not ask –“Will you ever be afraid again?” Jesus does not ask – “Do you promise that you will never fall on your face again in the midst of fear, darkness and danger?”
Rather, Jesus asks Peter and us—“Do you love me more than these?”
What does — these — refer to here? Whatever it is; we must look within ourselves to answer that, but regardless of what — these — refers to; what is important to Jesus is love, not the unachievable promise of human perfection and sinlessness. Jesus knows that saying YES to love is a faster track to holiness than constantly saying NO to sin and darkness. Both may lead to holiness, but saying YES to love makes for a more enjoyable ride there.
St. Augustine said – “Love God and do what you will.”
In other words, the love for Jesus and for neighbour will naturally lead to a moral and spiritually fulfilling life.