Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
First reading: Is 22:19-23
Responsoral Psalm: 138: 1-3, 6, 8
Second reading: Rom 11:33-36
Gospel: Mt 16:13-20
By Jem Sullivan
Surveys and opinion polls are part of everyday life. And while we may or may not agree with their results, one thing is certain — when a survey or poll is taken, people have diverse and even contradictory views about the same issue, event or public figure.
A survey of sorts unfolds in today’s Gospel, but with a difference. For the one conducting the survey is Jesus himself who asks, “Who do you say that I am?”
His question is addressed personally to each disciple and it elicits a variety of answers. Each disciple has a different understanding of who Jesus is.
Jesus does not give his disciples a trick question. Nor is it a trivial one. It is a question concerning his identity that echoes throughout Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. We could say this is the central question of the whole Gospel.
To the various answers given, Jesus praises Peter’s response. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” says Peter in faith. He does not engage in abstract speculation, nor does he simply echo the opinions of others. Peter replies to Jesus with his personal confession of faith.
Jesus tells Peter that he will be the rock on which the new people of God stand. This divine choice echoes Isaiah’s promise, in the first reading, as God chooses Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, to replace a corrupt leader and to be a just and faithful servant of the people.
Peter was a generous, enthusiastic leader. But what Matthew seems to highlight is that the primary place of Peter, as visible head of God’s people, was not a later invention of the church. Rather, Peter’s place as head of the church brings us back to this pivotal Gospel moment, to his response in faith to the question of Jesus’ identity and mission.
Peter failed the Lord on many occasions. He had both strengths and weaknesses. By giving the role of leading the church to a man who denied him, Jesus establishes the church not on human strength, but on his own servant love and faithfulness.
The church’s origin is Christ. Peter and popes who succeed him are servants of Christ as servants of God’s people. Peter’s confession of faith is the rock on which the faith of the church rests. The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ.
The question that Jesus asks his disciples is posed to us today. “Who is Christ for me personally? Do I believe he is the Son of the living God? And if so, how does my belief inform and transform my thoughts, decisions and way of life?”
In looking to Jesus, source of faith and foundation of the church, we learn to rely more on him and less on ourselves. Like Peter, we deepen our understanding of who Jesus is so that we may see him more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more closely each day, as we say in faith, “speak to me, Lord.”
“Let us never forget that authentic power is service.”
(Pope Francis, homily at Mass for the inauguration of the pontificate, March 19, 2013)
Jem Sullivan, wife and mother, author and professor, writes on faith and culture in the new evangelization.