When I read the questions Jesus poses to the disciples in this week’s gospel, it reminds me of some of the formation I received in leading groups of faith. One of the cardinal rules was to never put anyone on the spot. Never make them feel so uncomfortable that they may consider not returning next week. That’s why we would always preface a faith question with “there are no wrong answers“, which seemed to quell some of the fears of people in the group who worried that what they had to offer wouldn’t measure up.
Jesus offers no such reprieve in our story today. He does not calm their anxiety by assuring them that they can’t get this wrong. Let’s keep in mind when this takes place; we are told in Matthew’s gospel that six days after this conversation, he takes Peter, James and John and goes up Mount Tabor, where he is transfigured before their eyes. My point being that they have been with him in his ministry for a while. Sometimes when you have been in a relationship for some time, it can be good to stop and take the temperature, so to speak. To see if everyone is on the same page. As a leader, it takes a lot of self-confidence to ask your followers exactly what they think of you. “Who do you say that I am?“ might not garner the answer you were hoping for.
I have spent a good many hours in my lifetime in faith development, be it catechism classes as a young boy; classes at the Catholic Information Center with Sister Pat Callahan as a young adult; or the subsequent formation I was able to receive through the Atlantic School of Theology. All of this was time well spent, and allowed me to obtain a rather useful knowledge base. This was in addition to the wonderful formation I received from my mom and dad at home. There have been lots of people in my life tell me about Jesus. But the task was then left to me to not just know about Jesus, but to know Jesus. I knew a lot about my wife before we got married, but the only way I could enter fully and lovingly into our marriage was to pay attention and get to know my wife. I feel if she would have asked me at the altar on our wedding day, “who do you say that I am?“ and then asked me again now, my answer now would come from a much deeper and more profound place as I feel that in the joys, sorrows, storms and calm of 34 years of married life, I have a greater insight into the gift that she is.
The declaration that Peter makes in his response to Jesus’ question (“you are the Christ, the Son of the living God”) I believe comes from a greater insight that maybe the others had not tapped into as of yet. Jesus tells Peter “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” Thanks to the always unwarranted grace of God, Peter didn’t just know about Jesus; he knew Jesus. But, Peter’s life from this moment on was not exactly filled with lollipops and gumdrops every day; there were good times, but rough times as well. However, Peter never lost sight of the truth he spoke that day; nor should we. The more time we spend getting to know Jesus, the more we won’t have to let Peter speak for us. We will gladly tell anyone who asks that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God.