Reflection for the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul – “Apostles of Christ” by Fr Ray McIntyre, SDB
Sts Peter and Paul Year A – Lectio divina on Mt 16,13-20
The gospel records one of the most important moments in Jesus’ public ministry. It was also an unforgettable experience for his closest followers. The disciples had lived with him for some time, accompanying him as he preached the Kingdom of God, and they had been present for the signs and wonders he worked. Jesus now withdraws from the crowd to be alone with his closest followers. Away from anything that might distract them, Jesus wants to know what people are saying about him and what they themselves think of him. It was not mere curiosity that prompted the question. His intention was to oblige his followers to make an option for him and to proclaim publicly who he was for them and what they, as disciples, expected from him. Anyone who wants to be a disciple of Jesus, will always feel obliged to define himself in terms of what he thinks of Jesus. For Jesus it is not enough that people follow him closely. He wants them to recognise him for who he is and to proclaim him without compromise.
At that time: 13 When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
I Read: understand what the text is saying and focus on how it says it.
Jesus has already experienced a certain degree of failure in his personal ministry (Mt 13,53-58; 15,1-9; 16,1-4) and now concentrates on his followers. To foster closer intimacy with them he leaves Galilee and the crowds and goes to Caesarea Philippi, where he challenges his disciples to declare themselves for him. The text is the record of a conversation prompted and sustained by Jesus’ questions. He does not journey with everybody. He wants to know what people are saying about him and he prepares the way for the real question: who is he for them?
The disciples respond telling him what others think of him. He is compared to several individuals but it is clear that the people see him as a prophet. Interestingly, Jesus does not reply to what they tell him. He does not seem to be very interested in the confusion of the ordinary people in his regard, and he puts the question directly to the disciples who were present. They have lived with him and heard him. They have seen the miracles he worked and listened to his teaching. Jesus now wants to know who he is for them. This concern for the opinion of the disciples is interesting. It is not enough that they have shared his life intimately. The time has come for them to make a public confession. From being companions on the journey they must now become public witnesses.
Peter confesses what the Father has placed in his heart. He defines Jesus in terms of what he means for God. He is the Messiah, the Son of God. Peter makes his own the point of view of God. He accepts the Father’s decision. Jesus blesses him and acknowledges that Peter’s faith is through no merit of his own, but a grace given by God. Peter has come to know who Jesus is, not just by living with him, but because God has revealed Jesus’ true identity to him. Jesus proclaims that this man who is blessed by God will become the foundation stone of a new community of believers. He will not cease to be weak, but he is given this trust because he has declared himself for Jesus, seeing him as God sees him, rather than as a result of his own desires and feelings. Power in heaven and authority on earth are given to one who believes that Jesus is God as God intends. Faith is well motivated when it sees everything, including Jesus, as God wills. Only a faith that has been received as grace can be the basis and foundation stone of the faith community.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life.
Before asking their personal opinions, Jesus wants to know from his disciples what the people are saying about him. We do not know what led Jesus to seek information about the things people were saying of him and what reaction his mission had awakened in the people. The fact remains that he wanted to hear it from the mouth of his closest disciples. In this way he forced them to take an interest in what the people thought about him, their Master. A disciple of Jesus who wants to live all his life close to him, cannot remain unconcerned about what the world thinks of the Master. Being faithful followers does not exempt us from being interested in what Jesus means to others.
The proof of our interest in Jesus is the interest we show in wanting to know if the world shares our enthusiasm for him. It would be hard for us to show that our convictions and our faith are sincere if we do not show a concern for the world that does not know Jesus. It should hurt us if he is not known or loved as much as we know and love him. It is not enough that we preserve our faith in him, in the midst of a world that is becoming less and less interested in Jesus as Lord. Our discipleship would be of little value if we were not concerned about those who do not believe or do not appreciate him as we do.
Jesus’ question prepared his disciples for an even more significant challenge. He was not all that interested in what his contemporaries thought of him, but he wanted to prepare the disciples for the decisive question: who was he for them? His interest in their response was sincere and urgent: they would have to proclaim publicly what they had often thought in secret. They must be prepared to risk saying in public what they had often heard in private. Jesus is not satisfied that that they follow him and share his life and his work. Following Jesus is never a purely private matter that concerns only the conscience of the disciple. No disciple passes the test unless he is willing to make a public profession of his faith, to say aloud what he knows in his heart. The companion of Jesus must become his witness. His friend must become a preacher on his behalf.
It is not enough therefore to cultivate fine sentiments – we need works that manifest them. We have to say what we believe and proclaim what we live. Good intentions do not make a good disciple. His life must become the message. Jesus does not accept as his companions people who do not know who he is, who do not opt for him and are not willing to do so publicly. He continues in our day to challenge all who want to be his disciples. He wants to hear from us what we think of him. If we have not yet heard that question of Jesus, if he has not yet asked us who we say he is, it is probably because he does not yet consider us among his closest followers. He put the question only to those who had followed him closely from the beginning.
We should desire to hear again today that question of Jesus. If we have never found ourselves forced to take a position in his regard, it may well be because we are not close enough to him for him to speak to us. We can make up for lost time. All we need is to think of ourselves being questioned by Jesus. Who is he really for us? What does he mean for us in concrete in our daily lives? The answer will depend on how we respond publicly to him, in the presence of others and especially in his presence. Then, like Peter, we may be considered worthy of him and blessed, because the Father has deigned to reveal his secrets to us.
To proclaim Jesus it is not enough to say that we believe that God made us, or to profess the faith we received from our parents. When Peter acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, he was not simply stating what he thought about Jesus but what God wanted. Peter did not state his own personal opinion but proclaimed what God had put into his heart. Believing in Jesus presupposes therefore that we adopt God’s point of view, that we see Jesus as God sees him, think of him as God thinks of him, contemplate him in God’s light and love him in the way God wills. It is wrong to imagine Jesus in the light of our own desires or in conformity to our needs. That would not be the authentic Jesus, the true Son of God. Believing in Jesus means accepting him as God reveals him. A Jesus modelled on our preferences would fall far short of the Jesus revealed by God. Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, is always far greater than we could ever desire. To know him we have to accept him as he really is, as God has given him to us.
Only disciples who, like Peter at Caesarea, see and proclaim Jesus as God reveals him, will be called to be the rock and foundation of the faith of others. The believer is assured of power in heaven and authority on earth when he bases his existence on Christ Jesus, the Son of God. When Jesus wants to know our opinion of him, he wants to know if we have accepted him as God reveals him to us, as his Son and our Messiah. If he found such a disciple among us today, he would proclaim him blessed and would entrust to him again the mission to be the foundation stone of the faith of others. We are called to proclaim our faith without compromise. It is not the world that asks it of us, but Our Lord himself. And we are all called to be, like Peter, a rock of faith and a pillar of fidelity for our brothers and sisters.
We should feel urged by Jesus to tell him what he means to us. Blessed are those among us who proclaim him as God sees him. We need not be jealous of Peter! His mission, to be the foundation and support of the fidelity of others, is given to all who proclaim their faith in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. We have that possibility – why do we not avail of it?