Sunday reflection: Matthew 16:13–19

posted at 11:46 am on June 29, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussionPrevious Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here For previous Green Room entries, click here.

This morning’s Gospel reading is Matthew 16:13–19:

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.”

“But who do you say I am?” Jesus asks this of all twelve disciples not long after feeding thousands in Galilee and rebuking a challenge from the Pharisees and Sadducees to perform “a sign from heaven” to prove himself. The disciples and Jesus decamped to the other side of the Galilee and forgot to bring bread, which caused the disciples to fret over their sustenance. Jesus rebuked them for not having trust in Him, especially just after watching Jesus feed thousands with just a few loaves and fishes, for the second time in his ministry (Matthew 16:9-10).  They, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, are missing the forest for the trees, and they have not yet learned to put their trust in the Lord rather than on material provisions.

At their next stop in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks them the quintessential question of faith. Who do you say I am? To the Pharisees and the Sadducees, he was a troublesome teacher, one who threatened their political power. To most of the other Israelites in the region, he was a healer and a leader, at least for as long as it cost them little to follow. While some speculated that Jesus was the Messiah, they only believed it for as long as they could maintain their own estimation of what a Messiah would be and do. They wanted a warrior to expel the Romans and restore the Davidic kingdom on earth, rather than a path to eternal salvation and forgiveness of their own sins.

At Caesarea Philippi, the question becomes acute for the twelve disciples chosen by God to carry out the ministry of the church throughout time. Who do you say I am? If Jesus is just a political provocateur or a wise teacher with healing gifts, then He’d hardly be remarkable or worth given one’s life to serve. No church, no Gospel of such a man would endure, nor would the disciples in their mission. After all, if these twelve who had ringside seats to Jesus’ works and teachings could not grasp who He truly is, then how could anyone else who had not had that vantage point?

Who do you say that I am? That question applies to us as well, Christians living in a world vastly changed over two millenia. It’s pretty easy at those times when the burden of living our faith authentically in the world to just shrug off the divinity of Jesus. We can easily become the mighty throngs called to hear Jesus’ teaching, happy to be fed and entertained for a while on a Sunday morning and then act as if that had no bearing on the other 167 hours in the week. When it comes to professing Jesus as the true Son of God and the necessity of living in His word, though, we can grumble and walk away, mutter about “hard sayings” and convince ourselves that these teachings have no relation to the real world. We can, in essence, decide to prefer our own concept of God and salvation to Jesus’ revealed Word, and end up denying him.

Alternately, we can become the Pharisees and Sadducees. Instead of shrugging off Jesus, we can react with hostility and anger to the gentle nature of God’s call to holiness and salvation. We begin trials in our own minds over the Scripture and the teachings of the Apostles in a legalistic and uncharitable manner rather than open our hearts to the Word. How many times have we called on Jesus to do a mighty work as “a sign from heaven” in order to prove Himself to us, rather than “interpret the signs of the times” on our own accord? When we were small children, some of our tried to test our parents to prove their love by buying us junk or letting us do something stupid, too. (Well, I know I certainly did on occasion.) Our parents were a lot smarter than us back then, though, and so is God at all times.

Who do you say I am? It’s the question that will force us to decide between being disciples, spectators, or antagonists. That’s as true now as it was in Caesarea Philippi almost two thousand years ago, when Jesus asked it of his own disciples. It was a challenge to them to choose now and make the commitment to faith.

And what happens? Simon Peter issues his statement of faith, one that marks the establishment of the Church in time: “You are the Christ, Son of the Living God.” That doesn’t mean that Peter had perfect faith or understanding in that moment — in fact, far from it. Just a few verses later in the same conversation, Peter get rebuked by Jesus for opposing the plan for His sacrifice that will enable salvation; Jesus even calls him “Satan,” just after pledging to give Peter “the keys to the kingdom” for his faith. During the Passion, Peter will deny Jesus three times before the sun rises. But from that declaration forward, Peter surrenders his own will to Jesus, even if imperfectly, and declares his commitment to faith in His teaching rather than Peter’s conception of salvation.

Nor is this the only such moment of commitment and declaration of faith in the New Testament. In our second reading today, Paul reflects back on his life shortly before his martyrdom in Rome. Paul once persecuted the Church out of zeal for his heritage and his community, but was struck down by a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus. What was that vision? In Acts 9:4-6, a bright light appeared and a voice asked, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Who do you say I am? Until that moment, Paul had sided with the Pharisees and Sadducees, zealously so. Paul asked in return, “Who are you, Lord?” In that moment, Paul had been given another opportunity to make that choice, and instead of relying on his own will and understanding, humbled himself before God and opened his heart to faith. He professed that faith from that time forward and became a great evangelist of the Church instead.  Paul’s mission took him far from his community and the people of his heritage, as Paul spent long years traveling among the Gentiles and converting them to the faith. At the end, when facing martyrdom and death, Paul is exhausted but joyful. “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” Paul will proclaim Jesus as the Christ, the only Son of the Living God right until his death.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul in the Catholic Church, united as the earliest of the Church fathers but also because of their proclamations of faith. They were two very different men, of differing temperaments, education, viewpoints, and ministries, and yet they were united by the answer to that one very basic and potent question: Who do you say that I am? In the end, that question isn’t about the identity of Jesus, but the identity of each and every one of us. When we answer that, we answer for our own identities.

Will we be disciples? Spectators? Antagonists? Who do you say Jesus is — and who do you therefore say you are?

The front-page image is of the Primacy of St. Peter Church, on the Sea of Galilee, from my own collection. And today’s Reflection was delayed because I slept in later than usual this morning. My apologies.


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Thank you, Ed.

The reading for the vigil Mass was different.

unclesmrgol on June 29, 2014 at 11:52 AM

The reading for the vigil Mass was different.

unclesmrgol on June 29, 2014 at 11:52 AM

I probably should have mentioned that. For those who don’t already know this, the vigil reading was from John 21:15-19.

Ed Morrissey on June 29, 2014 at 11:55 AM

Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples
and, when they had finished breakfast, said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

What is also important in both of these readings are both the promises and the admonitions that Jesus gives to Peter.

While the Gospel is devoted to Peter’s place, the Second Reading is devoted to Paul, and how the message of the Lord remains constant:

I want you to know, brothers and sisters,
that the Gospel preached by me is not of human origin.
For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it,
but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

For you heard of my former way of life in Judaism,
how I persecuted the Church of God beyond measure
and tried to destroy it, and progressed in Judaism
beyond many of my contemporaries among my race,
since I was even more a zealot for my ancestral traditions.
But when God, who from my mother’s womb had set me apart
and called me through his grace,
was pleased to reveal his Son to me,
so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles,
I did not immediately consult flesh and blood,
nor did I go up to Jerusalem
to those who were Apostles before me;
rather, I went into Arabia and then returned to Damascus.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem
to confer with Cephas and remained with him for fifteen days.
But I did not see any other of the Apostles,
only James the brother of the Lord.
–As to what I am writing to you, behold,
before God, I am not lying.

unclesmrgol on June 29, 2014 at 12:03 PM

You were making rather merry yesterday Ed?

celtic warrior on June 29, 2014 at 12:17 PM

The front-page image is of the Primacy of St. Peter Church, on the Sea of Galilee, from my own collection. And today’s Reflection was delayed because I slept in later than usual this morning. My apologies

…the way you’ve been working…you’re entitled to sleep in…ONCE!
That Church…has a lot of history. I wonder if it is of size and any architectural similarity of the 808 AD church?

JugEarsButtHurt on June 29, 2014 at 12:34 PM

Ed, I learn more about my faith as the years go on…

I believe from this verse and others is where the Church inherits the concept of Papal infallibility…

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”

Because at this moment he could not speak in error for God had revealed this answer to him…

And this verse along with others is why we recognize Peter as the first pope…

“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.”

God Bless!

MGardner on June 29, 2014 at 1:50 PM

MGardner on June 29, 2014 at 1:50 PM

Yes, but it’s worth noting that the doctrine of papal infallibility is highly restrictive. It only applies to explicit ex cathedra pronouncements on doctrine in union with the episcopacy (the bishops). It’s extremely rare, so much so that there are only a couple of pronouncements considered universally to have been made under this dogma, and a handful of others that may or may not qualify.

Ed Morrissey on June 29, 2014 at 2:23 PM

He is the Christ, our only King…..

crosshugger on June 29, 2014 at 3:49 PM

Simon Peter issues his statement of faith, one that marks the establishment of the Church in time: “You are the Christ, Son of the Living God.” That doesn’t mean that Peter had perfect faith or understanding in that moment — in fact, far from it. Just a few verses later in the same conversation, Peter get rebuked by Jesus for opposing the plan for His sacrifice that will enable salvation; Jesus even calls him “Satan,” just after pledging to give Peter “the keys to the kingdom” for his faith.

In that moment, with that statement, Christ commanded the demonic. It was the demonic that spoke that counter-urgence as to Christ’s purpose as Salvation and it was to that ‘voice’ that Christ addressed his rejection.

Lourdes on June 29, 2014 at 4:10 PM

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”

And therein Christ speaks to the holiness in “Simon son of Jonah.”

We’re “in the world, not of it” and thus, our struggle to whom we direct our statements, as Christ exemplified to us when he was here with us as a human man. It is a struggle in this ‘fallen world’ and therein lies the importance of these Sunday shares of Christ’s way and words.

Alternately, we can become the Pharisees and Sadducees. Instead of shrugging off Jesus, we can react with hostility and anger to the gentle nature of God’s call to holiness and salvation. We begin trials in our own minds over the Scripture and the teachings of the Apostles in a legalistic and uncharitable manner rather than open our hearts to the Word. How many times have we called on Jesus to do a mighty work as “a sign from heaven” in order to prove Himself to us, rather than “interpret the signs of the times” on our own accord?

…our ongoing struggle while here on this earth.

“Put on the armor of God…”

Lourdes on June 29, 2014 at 4:15 PM

MGardner on June 29, 2014 at 1:50 PM

From Galatians 2:

6 As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. 7 On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. 8 For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.

11 When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

~

How could a man who was personally and solely entrusted with the keys to the kingdom make such an egregious error? I’m a sinner and a hypocrite as well, so I don’t mean any disrespect toward Peter by pointing this text out, but it is in the Bible after all.

Also, if Peter was apostle to the circumcised, meaning the Jews, why would he end up in gentile Rome?

As we all know, RC’s believe that Peter’s papal successors inherit the keys. This would mean that Paul and the rest did not posses the keys to the kingdom and their inherent authority as described in Matthew 16. Doesn’t it make more sense to read Matthew 16 as the keys being entrusted to all of the apostles rather than just Peter and his successors? How was Alexander VI greater than e.g. James, John, and Paul?

As is often pointed out, it was Peter’s confession of Christ as God the Son incarnate, and not Peter himself, that was the rock upon which the Church was founded. That’s why different words were used by Jesus to describe Peter and the rock of the Church’s foundation. There’s no other plausible explanation for why different words were used.

Even Zerwick & Grosvenor, whom I respect greatly, simply dismiss the difference between the two words with the weak tea that Petros was more suitable as a name than petra, which raises the question, Why didn’t Jesus use Petros in both places? I know this is an argument from silence, but there would have been no doubt that He meant it as RC’s take it had He done so. That much is inarguable.

Akzed on June 29, 2014 at 4:39 PM

Also, if Peter was apostle to the circumcised, meaning the Jews, why would he end up in gentile Rome?

…by the power of God. By the Holy Spirit. By God’s grace.

Lourdes on June 29, 2014 at 4:48 PM

And this verse along with others is why we recognize Peter as the first pope…
MGardner on June 29, 2014 at 1:50 PM

I understand the Catholic teaching to which you refer, MGardner, but there is no biblical mention of a pope, “first” or otherwise.

whatcat on June 29, 2014 at 6:34 PM

…by the power of God. By the Holy Spirit. By God’s grace. Lourdes on June 29, 2014 at 4:48 PM

Or… God was confused? Turns out that “apostle to the circumcision” didn’t mean what it seemed, huh?

Akzed on June 29, 2014 at 7:26 PM

…by the power of God. By the Holy Spirit. By God’s grace. Lourdes on June 29, 2014 at 4:48 PM

Or… God was confused? Turns out that “apostle to the circumcision” didn’t mean what it seemed, huh?

Akzed on June 29, 2014 at 7:26 PM

The High Priest who replaced Caiaphas was far more punitive on the church of Jerusalem. Peter and the apostles scattered. Paul was already in Rome to appeal his crimes to the emperor as a Roman citizen. Too bad Nero was in the process of persecuting the followers of The Way for setting the great fire of Rome.

John the Libertarian on June 29, 2014 at 8:03 PM

I understand the Catholic teaching to which you refer, MGardner, but there is no biblical mention of a pope, “first” or otherwise.

whatcat on June 29, 2014 at 6:34 PM

It does not state the word Pope, but the bible also never mentions the word Trinity…

MGardner on June 29, 2014 at 9:01 PM

Akzed on June 29, 2014 at 4:39 PM

There is a lot here and will just make a broad overall statement…

As Ed poitned out, the Pope rarely speaks infallibly…

Second, remember Peter had a dream to include the gentile Cornelius…

Third, the word Catholic means “universal” meaning the Church is for everybody Gentile or Jew, man or woman, black or white…

We see the word Catholic in writing in the first century referring to the Church founded by Jesus…

God Bless!

MGardner on June 29, 2014 at 9:18 PM

It does not state the word Pope, but the bible also never mentions the word Trinity…
MGardner on June 29, 2014 at 9:01 PM

Correct, the concept of the Trinity was extrapolated from the bible and was decided to be a doctrine under the auspices of Constantine (who could lay claim to being the first Pope) three centuries after Christ. That being set aside, there is no biblical argument for a papacy. Since I’m not a Catholic, I don’t have to accept the papacy as a doctrine so it’s neither here nor there to me. Just making a biblical and historical observation.

whatcat on June 29, 2014 at 10:47 PM

Sinners in the hands of an indifferent God.

tenore on June 29, 2014 at 11:00 PM

Sinners in the hands of an indifferent God.

tenore on June 29, 2014 at 11:00 PM

.
Good thing you waited until 11:00 PM to post that, otherwise it might have been seen and read by a larger number of people.
.
Who … is an “indifferent God god” ?

listens2glenn on June 30, 2014 at 12:08 AM

Akzed on June 29, 2014 at 4:39 PM

You will note that Peter was acting badly as a human, and needed to be rebuked. He was comfortable eating with the Gentiles, but when the Jews (I mean Gentile and Jewish Christians) came, he would eat solely with them, so as to not be diminished in the estimation of the Jewish Christians, whose opinion Peter appeared to prize above those of the Gentiles.

Such behavior was a slight to the Gentiles by the (ex) Jews, for the Jews felt they had the inside track on salvation. Such behavior certainly needed to be addressed or it might split the Church asunder. The Gospel (in particular Matthew 7) talks about the manner in which one should approach behavioral correction: First, take out the log from your eye, so you can see clearly, after which you may address the speck in your brother’s eye. Now Paul had, by this time, removed the log from his eye (believing that slavish obedience to every element of the Law was necessary) so he was certainly in a position to recognize the speck in Peter’s eye.

Peter never said that Gentiles and Jews should not eat together — but his behavior implied that. Peter was a sinful man, not treating Gentile Christians as full brothers, and he needed to be rebuked. Indeed, even today the Pope goes to confession, and performs penance, for the Pope is, when all is said and done — a human. Popes may be informed by the Holy Spirit, but in the end they are human and subject to any number of human failings — some of which come from our ultimate strength — free will.

What happened as a result of Paul’s brotherly correction? Did Peter in his vanity refuse to listen, or was the Holy Spirit at work here?

What infallibility means is that the Church itself is infallible, and that, as a natural outgrowth from that, the Pope (head of the Church) is infallible when pronouncing dogma on matters of faith and morals. Indeed, when Jesus says that the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against the Church, he means that the Church is the staunch defender of the way to salvation on earth — that death cannot still its work.

The Church, though composed of humans, is not human — it is something else — a vessel designed to carry the teachings of God inerrantly through the ages.

That Jesus is talking to Peter in the mentioned passage is indisputable — that He was stating emphatically that Peter was to be the head of his Church. Indeed, right after that passage, having been told he will be granted great power, Peter shows his petty human nature by asking about another Disciple. He is then rebuked by Jesus, just as he was on the day before Jesus was taken by the Pharisees when he claims he will never leave Jesus.

Now, as sinful as Peter might have been at times, note that he suffered martyrdom for his belief in Jesus. We note at all times the humanity of the Apostles, and yet earnestly desire to emulate the best of their behaviors in our daily lives.

Now, back to infallibility. The problem evangelicals have is that, in order to make themselves proper heirs, the infallibility of the Church — for that was what Jesus was giving to both us and Peter — had to stop at Peter’s death — that none of the other leaders of the Church could have the same infallibility that Peter had. But how could the Church itself be infallible if those authorized to speak on its behalf are not infallibly guided by the Holy Spirit — by God?

Back to sin. In terms of my ability to rebuke a fellow Christian, I am fully the equal of any ecclesiastical official — as Jesus tells us over and over. But before we rebuke, we must carefully clear the log from our eye.

unclesmrgol on June 30, 2014 at 1:25 AM

Sinners in the hands of an indifferent God.

tenore on June 29, 2014 at 11:00 PM

God has given us an Instruction Manual and any number of instructors as to the proper use of said Manual.

God has also given to us a gift nearly as great as that of Salvation — the free will to either use or abuse the lessons of the Instruction Manual as we see fit.

Have you ever watched The Bishop’s Wife? It’s not very Catholic (note that Angels put all sorts of things in peoples minds that people would never think of on their own — and an angel is not the Holy Spirit), but it’s a really nice movie with a lot of good observations on what is important in life.

There’s the scene in which Dudley (the angel, played by Cary Grant) brings Debby (the little girl) and Julia Brougham (her mother, the bishop’s wife) to a snowball fight in the park, and Debby comes back all disconsolate because she isn’t being allowed into the fight by the leaders because she’s a preacher’s daughter.

Dudley gets her into the fight and then goes back to sit with Julia, where she asks him “Will she get hurt?” Dudley replies “Probably, but she’ll love it!”

The point is that God is not indifferent, but He will allow us to make the mistakes we will make, some of which can have quite bad consequences for others.

Consider what might have happened had Debby broken her arm?

But the Instruction Manual covers how we ought to repair those portions of the world we break. And there’s no indifference in that at all, especially given that God practically killed Himself getting that Instruction Manual to us.

unclesmrgol on June 30, 2014 at 1:45 AM

John 1:17

English Standard Version (ESV)

17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

mark81150 on June 30, 2014 at 5:49 AM

Alas, my words will not connect to your mind as this time allotted for this page has passed.

As is often pointed out, it was Peter’s confession of Christ as God the Son incarnate, and not Peter himself, that was the rock upon which the Church was founded. That’s why different words were used by Jesus to describe Peter and the rock of the Church’s foundation. There’s no other plausible explanation for why different words were used.

Even Zerwick & Grosvenor, whom I respect greatly, simply dismiss the difference between the two words with the weak tea that Petros was more suitable as a name than petra, which raises the question, Why didn’t Jesus use Petros in both places? I know this is an argument from silence, but there would have been no doubt that He meant it as RC’s take it had He done so. That much is inarguable.

Akzed on June 29, 2014 at 4:39 PM

This is such a trite argument. You make yourself still weaker in the argument linguistically. The Cephas / Petros argument is not at all scholarly; it is Protestant. Let’s take a step sideways to simplify the explanation. Lil Abner was described as “mighty – like an oak.” Simon was a solid foundation for the Church – like a rock. Not that he was an actual rock – that idea is so Protestantly narrow.

Here’s the fun part: Jesus connects his nature with the prophecies of the Old Testament. Reread Isaiah 22.15-25 and you will understand all you need to about the keys and Papal succession.

Now the serious part: Only God is infallible. If you think a Pope is infallible, then you are polytheistic.

ericdijon on July 2, 2014 at 5:59 PM