Children ask questions all the time about all sorts of things. Children want to know about absolutely everything. When their questions amuse us, we tell them to our friends. Sometimes they ask us difficult questions. But no matter how awkward a child’s questioning might get, no child would ever ask the question Jesus puts to Peter in this gospel passage: “Who do you say that I am?” This is an adult question. This question cuts right to the heart of things. It pins you down. You either have to tell the truth or tell a pretty good lie. There is no room for some vague non-committal response. There is no room for saying what somebody wants to hear or for saying the easy thing.
“Who do you say that I am?” On this Feast of Peter and Paul as we ponder that dramatic moment at Caesarea Philippi, he puts that question to each of us. We have the answer, because the answer has been formulated by generations of those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, but today he doesn’t ask us for a formula we have received, he asks us what we actually believe. He asks us for the truth and we can’t fool him
This Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul is about how faith in Jesus Christ engages each of us. These two great apostles were both martyred for the faith in Rome. In that Church these two Apostles handed on the faith which has been lived down the centuries and across the nations. This is the same faith which we try to live each day.
“Who do you say that I am?”
Peter replies “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Jesus does a strange thing. He answers Peter by telling him who he is, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church”. One of the most awkward things about the question Jesus put to Peter, “who do you say that I am?” is that it reflects back on ourselves. It makes us ask ourselves, “Who am I?” If we really believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the one who died for us, if we really let this great love impinge on us, then obviously it forces us to look at ourselves.
There is a stage in love, when the beloved marvels at the fact that he or she is loved by this person. Why does she love me? There may be a later stage when you say, what did I ever see in you!! But it’s not like that with the love Jesus has for us.
“Who do you say that I am?” Coming from Christ, the one who died for us, the Son of God, this question demands that I have an answer within me about myself.
People say all sorts of things about me. Some words will be easy to hear, whereas others will not be so comfortable. If it is people who know me, what they say will hover somewhere around the truth. But what they say about me will never define me. There will always be more to me.
People sometimes surprise us. You might write someone off, and then they “come good”. Maybe they sort something out or maybe get their circumstances change. Perhaps burdens are lifted or wounds healed, but suddenly they seem to flourish in a way you wouldn’t have expected.
Children surprise us too. To watching them grow is to watch something precious unfold. But even if we could have predicted that he’d be a carpenter just like his father or a teacher just like her mother, there is more to him or her than that. They are not replicas of their parents. The call of God is surprising because God can see deeper than we can. God knows us through and through. He knows the answer to that question about me. He knows who I am in truth.
Look at Peter. This is the one who after that first miraculous haul of fish goes down on his knees and says, “Leave me Lord for I am a sinful man”. This is the one who lost faith, who refused to have his feet washed, who not only ran away in Gethsemane, but denied Christ three times. This is the one who wept bitter tears at cock crow. And yet this is the one to whom Jesus entrusts his flock. This is the living rock on which our faith is based, a rock streaked with failure and doubt, and yet by God grace endures.
It is the living Word of God who speaks to us. It is God who calls us forward. It is the God who loves us and knows us through and through, who asks us, “Who do you say that I am”. It is in our attempt to answer his question that we will discover his loving and gracious answer for each of us.