Today’s Gospel: Matthew 16:13-23
Recently my chorus sang the musical number that directs this question to Jesus, “Jesus Christ Superstar, do you think you’re who they say you are?” Today there is a multiplication of ideas about who Jesus is. This gospel gives us the key: We can only sort out who Jesus is by allowing it to be revealed to our hearts by the Father, who alone knows the Son.
When we don’t know the real Jesus, we can become very weak in faith and waste a lot of time. Yet unless we pray and humble ourselves, asking the Father to teach us who he is, we cannot grow in this knowledge or even understand his will for us.
It is interesting to note that Peter, who is called “blessed”, is nevertheless rebuked in the same passage. He cannot accept the trajectory of Jesus’ life, which was arching toward Jerusalem and a final confrontation with the Jews. Peter is so like us! One moment we are affirming that Jesus is Lord, and the next we are trying to remonstrate with God. What a remedy this gospel is, like a healthy oatmeal breakfast instead of black coffee. Just because we are in the circle of the Lord’s faithful, does not mean we are always right. And just because we are coming to know the Lord day by day, does not mean we have an entire picture of who Christ is. We are in a process of growing faith and growing knowledge, and must walk by faith through trusting God in all the things that happen in our lives. The corrective phrase Jesus tells Peter is most helpful: “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” And we all do, because we are human beings! Then what is the Lord suggesting? No less than this: start to think as God does.
There is an important context of community in this gospel as well. As we come to know Jesus personally, we are surrounded by the Church. Christ tells Peter:
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
The Church is the gathering of believers who have a shared understanding of who Jesus is. We have witnessed to one another and to the world not out of some head knowledge or study of ancient cultures, but out of an encounter with the Lord. We draw on some of those whose encounters were the most intense, like Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the many saints who are our sisters and brothers. Yet we must also have inner knowledge of Jesus through a prayer life. We need the Church to help us test our experience, however, and this helps us to trust the inspirations of the Holy Spirit God gives to each of us.
Today’s reading should bring us reassurance that, despite the disagreement about who Jesus is in our time and place, we have the Spirit dwelling within us and the community of the Church gathered around us to help us know truly and ponder rightly the question: “Who do you say that I am?”
Lord, you came that we might know you and know the Father. Show me more of who you are so I might better love you and serve you.
Do I really believe the Lord calls me to know him intimately? How do I create a space in my life for regular communication with Him?
Copyright 2014 Julie Paavola