The Gospel passage we have heard (Mt. 16:13-20) is known as “the text regarding the primacy of Peter.” Yet, it is a Gospel passage that goes well beyond the theological debates of Peter’s primacy and questions the faith of each one of us.
There are a number of lessons to be learned from today’s gospel. As we reflect on this passage it is helpful to recognize the context in which it occurs. After feeding the multitude and curing many people our Lord finds himself practically alone. The crowd seems to be present when there is the possibility of healing from illness and when there is food to be had but then the crowd dwindles. In a sense, our Lord, in this passage is left almost defeated. After having so many people around and trying to make them into the People of God, he is now left alone – only with his small group of disciples. Here is an important point to remember – the ways of God are not our ways. God will not force his Kingdom. Christ will usher in the Kingdom of God not through our world’s understanding of power, success and accomplishment but according to God’s terms nor will Christ usher in the Kingdom by seeking to cater to our every whim or entertain us with the latest fade. Christ will always be authentic to himself, the Kingdom and the will of the Father.
So, after the crowds have dwindled away, our Lord turns to this small and less-than-perfect grouping of disciples and asks, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Then, he looks directly to them and asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Our Lord is seeking to move this small band of followers beyond the limits of the world’s thought (in this case, the awaited messiah as a military leader and conqueror) into the truth of the Kingdom of God. Will they be able to follow a crucified Messiah? If they are to be his disciples they must begin to grasp the ways and the movements of God’s Kingdom.
Peter, speaking for the community of disciples, responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” There is an important spiritual lesson here – Peter was not perfect when he made this proclamation of truth. In fact, in the very next chapter Peter rebukes our Lord and is himself reprimanded. “Get behind me Satan! You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do!” The lesson is this: in the life of faith it is more important to cling to Jesus rather than to seek to make ourselves perfect in the hopes of winning his acknowledgement and love or (another temptation) to present ourselves as perfect in the eyes of others. (Christians who pretend to be perfect are like church buildings that have no windows; there might be a nice façade outside but within there is no light, no grace.) We forget this all the time. We want to have everything “perfect” – nice and neat – before we invite Jesus in. Jesus does not expect everything to be perfect. He just wants to be invited in! Just let him in and then, by his presence, all will begin to be healed!
When we allow Jesus in, when, in our heart, we are able to proclaim, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God…,” we gain the true power of the keys of the Kingdom – the power to “loose” and to “bind”. With Christ present, we gain the ability to loosen the bonds that hold us tight to our selfishness, our own love of self, our hurts, our petty indifferences and grudges. These are the bonds that make us violent and like a slave. When we let Christ in we learn to bind ourselves to that which gives true life – friendship, solidarity, integrity and service. We bind ourselves to the ways of the Kingdom.
In and through Christ, whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven
“Who do you say that I am?” is not some intellectual exercise that our Lord throws out there to test us. Rather, it is an invitation which our Lord extends to each one of us. It is an invitation to welcome Christ ever anew into our lives and into our hearts, that we might know life and become life for others.