When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he said, ‘who do you say I am?’ Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said, ‘the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’Mt 16:13-19
Upon acknowledging Jesus as “the Son of the living God” (v.17) Peter is told “Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man … you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church … I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven” (vv.17-19). The clarity with which Jesus speaks signifies the future role of Christ’s Vicar. Peter, and his apostolic successors, will always be a voice of truth and certainty arising above the cacophony of conflicting opinions and teachings. Matthew’s account is viewed by biblical scholars as asserting the primacy of Peter.
The significance of Peter’s profession of faith is also made apparent in Mark’s account of the same incident (8:27-38) which takes on a slightly different tone. To dismiss any notion that the Messiah would be a political or military figure, Jesus immediately instructs the disciples about the suffering and death that awaits him (Mark 8:31). This suffering will also extend to his loyal followers (v. 34) who, according to St. John Chrysostom (Homily on Matthew 55), will find salvation in bearing persecution patiently and by a willingness to undergo a passion like Christ’s.
It is in Mark’s account that Christ sharply rebukes his first disciple “get behind me, Satan” (8:33). Not yet understanding the purpose of death in the accomplishment of Jesus’ mission, Peter sought to divert Jesus from the path of suffering and unwittingly aligned himself with the mind-set of Satan, who similarly would seek to divert Jesus from fulfilling his mission. Hence we have Jesus’ sharp rebuke. This rebuke not only illustrates Jesus’ solicitous care and guidance for the appointed leaders of his Church, but for all disciples. All Christian disciples are reminded “if anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me” (v.34).
To take up the cross is hard and at times daunting, even overwhelming, but without the cross ours can never be a true profession of faith.
Although this incident happened almost two thousand years ago Jesus has posed the question “who you say I am?” to every Christian in every era and he poses that question to us today.
Like Peter, our voice should rise above the uncertainty and confusion. When asked “who do you say I am?” we can say “You are Jesus, True God, True Man. True God, Perfect Man.”
Director, Mission and Identity