This Sunday, we’ve heard a very well known passage of the Gospel: Peter’s confession of faith – acknowledgment that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in return, Jesus gives Peter authority on the church and the keys to the KOG.
Like all those passages, when we know them so well, it can be tricky. We just assume what it’s about (and sometimes it is!) but it’s harder to hear them anew.
A few points I would like to reflect on with you:
– Jesus asks this central question to his disciples: Who do you say that I am?
It’s not only a central question metaphorically speaking, but literally. Scholars have observed that this passage is the climax in two folded Matthew’s Gospel: first part is about the ministry of healing and teaching / second part is the suffering and the cross.
The question, of course, is redirected to us: Who do we think Jesus is?
I asked this question to our Bible study group this past Tuesday and I loved what I heard:
“Jesus is a friend / my best friend” (said spontaneously) and then adding “…but he is more than a friend” (said more hesitantly, but more reflexively)
And I really like that because I think it really reflects the familiarity and the mystery of Jesus, the way the disciples experienced him at the time: He was their friend, they ate and talked and traveled with him, but he was more than a friend, he knew them in a way no friend can know you, he helped them / healed them / transformed them.
Matthew insists in the first part of his Gospel that Jesus is God among us (He is called “Emmanuel”, God among us) – especially in the nativity story. God comes close to his people. But then, and that the second part of the story, he is taken away from his friends and this world (suffering and cross), not because he is vanishing, but because he draws all to God.
To me, this is really what the structure of the Gospel is about, and who Jesus is and how salvation works:
Jesus comes to be with us and then he takes us to be with God
He makes himself close to us so we can come close to God.
He is a friend, and he is more than a friend. He is a friend that can save, heal and redeem.
– So what does it mean in the way we relate to Jesus? I heard once this joke that gave me a lot to think about:
If one person has an imaginary friend, we call them crazy
If several persons have the same imaginary friend, we call it a religion.
How do I know that Jesus is not my imaginary friend? A lot of us have talked about the way it’s easy to talk to Jesus during the day (especially in these times of loneliness and isolation) and the feeling that came of being helped, comforted and supported.
And I think this is true – I experience it for myself everyday.
The thing is that it’s often where we are tempted to stop: Jesus is with me and I can talk to him. Now to go deeper into Jesus’ identity we understand from the Gospel today that Jesus comes to us to lead us to be with God.
We miss the mystery and Jesus’s real identity if we only relate to his “humanity” (his ability to be with us, to be compassionate) while missing his “divinity” (how Jesus redeems us and leads us to God)
As Peter acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God, he is changed.
His name changes (from Simon to Peter), his role is changed (He is in charge of the church), his character is changed (He is a rock), his authority is changed / Power is given to him (He can bind and loose).
Jesus comes into our life to bring transformation, liberation – to bring us power (not power over other people, but power to act) Jesus does not come into our lives just to help us cope (even if often it’s where we are to start)
It’s very clear in our first reading. Exodus of course, it’s like the most important story in the OT. It means something very simple: God does not want God’s people to be slaves. God wants God’s people to be God’s children. To be fully who they are / who they are meant to be. To flourish, not just to cope. As Simon, in becoming Peter, becomes the one he has always been deep inside, the one who he is meant to be.
– Now what is our way to relate to Jesus? Most of the time, we ask to help us cope, to let us be okay. And that’s what he wants to be here for! But that’s only the beginning. We have to ask him to let him change us – not that we would become somebody else, but become who we truly are – children of God. We have to ask Jesus to bring divine life inside of us, to let him bring us closer to God.
How do you pray? I know I often pray for things to change in my life, or for people to change, but I don’t often pray to be able to change. Yet if we really believe that we are in charge of our lives, if we change, our lives will truly be transformed.
Jesus wasn’t well received as the Messiah because people expected a Messiah who would come to change the world, to undo political power, to restore the Kingdom of Israel. But Jesus started in this world with making friends and then talk to them / lead them to God. Jesus knew that the most important thing is to start changing hearts before we can change anything in the world. By doing that, he gave power and authority to his disciples.
– This is really what the passage from the Epistle to the Romans is about today: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds”
And Paul says two important things:
The first one is that we have to offer ourselves to God. Do we do that? In Jesus, God offers who God is constantly – In Scriptures, in Sacraments, in the way we relate to God is prayer. Do we offer our hearts to God / ask God to let God’s will be done in our lives? (“So that you may discern what is the will of God in your lives”)
Second thing is that God has a special purpose for us. In this life, we look for support, comfort, love, for friend…but we also look for “more than a friend” / we look for something or somebody to live for, maybe even something to die for. We have special gifts to bring to the world – it’s does not have to be church related (Paul names prophecy and teaching, but also generosity, compassion, cheerfulness).
Peter today finds meaning to his life / understands his role – and God wants that for all of us. No matter our age, life situation.
– Jesus saves us, yes, but he does not rescue us like we rescue a puppy. Jesus rescues / saves us as his friends / his equals, somehow. In the Gospel, Jesus always, always, empowers people / his friends. Show them who they truly are / show them their own strength and their beauty and their abilities.
Do we let Jesus does that for us or is it to hard to truly believe in whom we can become with him / is it too hard to let Jesus love us, and change us?
– Do we do that for others? Are we to others a “friend and yet more than a friend”? I think we all want to have friends, because it’s nice to hang out, to talk about everything, to have fun together, to feel supported and comforted if needed. But in the Antiquity, people had a very different understanding of friendship. Friendship was meant to make life happier, but for many Greek philosophers, friendship was about spiritual growth. Friends will support each other so they become wiser, more mature and grow into divine life.
That’s also what the church is about. Our church is not about fellowship as a happy get together or support / cope group. It’s about getting to know God together / growing in the knowledge of God.
In this passage of the Gospel, we see that when Jesus talks about building the church, he is not thinking about building a building, than about building up people as he builds up his disciples / Peter. Do we build up each other? Do we stir up the best in each other / become our best selves / help one another to find our place in the world? That should be our role as the church.