“When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 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.” Matthew 16:13-19
This reading, at first glance, seems like a typical conversation between Jesus and some of his buddies. However, most everyone familiar with reflecting on scripture has discovered that viewing the story as just that–a story–isn’t typically how the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts. Which is why the Lord physically and individually invites us into the gospel today.
Jesus asks a broad question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
…and the disciples give a broad answer: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
An answer that gives a false image of Jesus. Interesting. How often are the world’s views of our Lord skewed?
Jesus then focuses in on Peter…and on me, on you: “But who do you say that I am?”
Who is Jesus Christ? God. Savior. Merciful father. Just judge. Best friend. Lover. Trustworthy teacher. The possible answers go on and on. Here, Peter has the opportunity to answer Jesus’s question face to face, calling him the Christ, the Son of the living God. At this, Jesus calls him blessed, for flesh and blood have not revealed this to him, but the heavenly Father has. Jesus rewards those who believe without seeing and trust in the works of God. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed!” (John 20:29).
Being called blessed by the creator of the universe sounds pretty dang cool to me. But often I feel as if I don’t get the same opportunities to claim my faith in Jesus like the apostles (who literally walked with Jesus) did. “Who do you say that I am?” The Lord asks this question constantly, even now. But how often do we hear it…and how often do we respond in faith? Here’s the thing: with every single decision we make, we tell Jesus how we feel about him. I find it to be such a dear blessing from the Lord that we are not able to physically see him and walk with him as the apostles did. What an opportunity to show him our immense trust! What an opportunity to grow in holiness–an opportunity to go a little bit faster on the path to sainthood.
A few nights ago, I was browsing a Catholic YouTube channel right before I was going to bed. I had vowed to go to mass at 9:00 AM the next morning. Now, here I am, listening to Fr. Mike Schmitz’s advice on discerning vocations. That in itself was a holy and good action. I was putting in time to learn more about how to discern God’s plan for my life. The conscious choice I made to sacrifice a small amount of time to learn how to better please him reveals to the Lord who I say that he is. All was good and well…until a video on the sidebar caught my eye. It was titled “Boyfriend Tag” and on the thumbnail was a pair of two very gorgeous and model-like teenagers. I glanced at the girl’s perfect hair and makeup, immediately feeling insecure about myself. Losing interest almost instantly in the video I was already watching, I clicked onto the other video. After finishing that one, I watched another, and another…
If I were to guess, I would say that the majority of teenagers have experienced this a time or two–being in that super weird part of YouTube and have absolutely no idea how you got there. Well, that’s where I ended up. At 2:00 in the morning. I’ll admit, sometimes it can be funny joking about having “procrastination issues”, but there is in fact a choice made in every situation. I struggle intensely with making excuses, but the Lord has spoken to my heart and challenged me to be conscious of every decision I make–big or small. In that moment, I felt as if I had put God into a box and tucked him away for later. Later, when I felt like talking to him. Oh, the shame I felt afterwards! Especially since my commitment to the Lord (9:00 AM mass) was not kept the next morning.
When our actions don’t reflect the way we feel about God, we sin. Which commonly results in what we call shame. Andreas Eschbach says “shame is like a wound that is never exposed and therefore never heals”. Jesus asks that we do not feel intense shame about turning away from him, but we seek his mercy instantly. St. Paul says that places of great sin abound even more in grace. So, let the Lord look at you. Give him access to your soul and your places of secrets and of shame–let his grace abound and heal your wounds. If there is one thing I have learned about Jesus, it is that when I let myself be exposed I experience the fullness of his mercy and healing.
“Who do you say that I am?” The freedom God gives us to answer is an incredible act of humility. What a humble God we have. What a boundlessly loving Lord. The questions at hand: Is Jesus the centerpiece of my life? If so, do my actions prove my claim?
Perfect loving Jesus, you are good. Thank you for chasing your sons and daughters relentlessly and without restriction. Lord, I say that you are the beginning and the end. I say that you are glorious and humble, and I say that you are everything to me. My one and my only. God, come to my assistance. Give me the courage, faith, and discipline to follow up on my claims with actions and with sacrifice. To be who I say I am in light of who you are. Jesus, I love you. Help me to show you. Amen.