Over the course of the Gospel passages of the past several weeks we have seen Simon Peter emerging as an important figure among the disciples of Jesus. He was present at the Transfiguration and offered the key insight into understanding the context of the meaning of that moment. We also saw Peter express both the depth and power of his faith as well as becoming overwhelmed with doubt, as he dared to step out of the boat and walk towards Jesus on the water.
Now, again, Jesus is alone with his disciples. They are in the northern part of the country, along a large and beautiful rock formation where Jesus is speaking with the disciples. At this time Jesus turns the tables on the usual conversation and asks them a question instead: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They respond with various possibilities, including John the Baptist, but no one mentions Jesus or even suggests that Jesus could be the Son of Man.
Jesus then, in a subtle way, answers the first question as he poses the second question: “But who do you say that I am?”
In shifting the focus from the Son of Man to himself, Jesus has identified himself with the Son of Man, but now he has asked for the deeper insight. Whether or not Peter or any of the others picked up on the clue from Jesus that he is the Son of Man we do not know, for Peter jumps to the deeper realization has he responds: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
It took a great deal of courage and wisdom for Peter to make that statement. While he risked being wrong and very much overstating who Jesus is (which, of course, he didn’t) he also shows again his tendency to make rash and bold judgments and statements.
It is in response to this insight by Peter that Jesus announces: “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.”
Peter is recognized for his boldness in proclamation of the Word that the Lord has revealed to him. Peter does not come to this insight on his own. We might see here a period of discernment. Peter is carefully discerning and discovering Jesus. He has reflected on the experiences referred to above, along with his many other encounters with Jesus and, through the revelation to him of the Holy Spirit, recognizes Jesus. For his part, Jesus also seems to be discerning who among his disciples will be the one to be the insight, thus the one to receive the keys to the Kingdom.
It is this constancy in prayerful reflection and our encounters with the Lord that we discern our own vocation as disciples. With Peter as an example, we can see how we might make clear the muddled waters of the world and the slow realization through faith of what the Lord asks of us.
We also learn that we cannot just keep our faith to ourselves. Achieving the insight is not nearly enough if we do not speak it and act on it. Like Peter we are called to boldness of faith and the ability to act courageously as we are confronted with the challenges of the world.
Let us pray for those who are discerning the Lord’s call in their lives. May we all know the bold courage like Peter to be a rock of faith for those who need someone to grasp onto.
Sept. 3 – Are you a rock or a stumbling stone?
This Sunday’s Gospel is a continuation of the same conversation that Jesus was having with his disciples last week. Jesus has just addressed Simon and named him Peter, the Rock upon which he would build his church. Now, as Jesus explains to them what it means for him to be, “…the Christ, the Son of the living God”, Peter takes the opportunity to “correct” Jesus. While Jesus is telling them that the Son of Man must go to Jerusalem to be killed, Peter objects to Jesus’ teaching.
Peter’s certain and bold testimony of faith was not fully informed. He did not understand the full meaning of what he professed about Jesus. Peter wanted to write the Gospel his own way not the Gospel of Jesus.
Immediately Jesus rebukes Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Imagine the gut wrenching reaction that Jesus’s words to Peter must have evoked within him. Only a few moments earlier he had been given a new name and a new purpose – now Jesus has called him Satan! The foundation rock has become a stumbling block, even to Jesus!
Peter could not accept the teaching of Jesus that cross was necessary to the full proclamation of the Kingdom. While Peter wants the Messiah to be triumphant, Jesus is the suffering servant. While Peter falls into silence and never again responds to Jesus when he speaks to the disciples about his passion and death, there is a key to this moment later on in the Gospel. Peter’s inability see Jesus as the one who would suffer and die for the Kingdom presents itself again after Jesus is arrested. Perhaps we can say that he denies Jesus because he was still unable to reconcile himself to the mission of the Messiah as Jesus was living it.
Whether or not Peter was a stumbling block to the other disciples we do not know. We can certainly say that Peter was not, in the end, a stumbling block for Jesus. But we can say that Peter remained a stumbling block for himself. He remained unable to take the truth that he knew and to draw it to its necessary conclusion. He cannot imagine Jesus here being crucified, and he continued to deny its reality even as it unfolded before him.
Like Peter, we can often become our own worst enemies in living a life of faith. We let our own hubris, desires, insights, and understanding of the truth to get in the way of actually knowing and living the truth. Often a little knowledge – or even a great deal of knowledge – does not mean that we possess the truth we just know “facts.”
The stumbling blocks that we set up can come in many different forms. We hinder the growth of others and of ourselves in the life of faith. Most of the time, like Peter, we are well-intentioned and sincere in our belief that we are right or are being helpful. Because of the nature of human frailty and the reality of sin in our lives, it can be very easy for us to do some real damage to others in their life of faith. [[In-content Ad]]
So as we look to Peter to be the rock, and sincerely seek to be bold and courageous in the proclamation of faith as did Peter, let us not fall into the trap of instead serving to become the rock that trips others up, but rather that stands firm so that others can see an example of faith lived and expressed well in a world that prefers to find religious stumbling blocks instead of firm rock foundations.