The Gospel for this Sunday occurs after the disciples travel with Jesus for some time. They listen to his parables. They witness God's miracles. After all this time, Jesus asks the disciples an unusual question:
“who do you say that I am?”
Of course they know his name, so perhaps instead Jesus really sort of asks, "Why do you follow me? What do you expect of me? What do you think is going on here?"
Peter names Jesus
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Messiah means "Anointed One." In the holy scriptures, priests, prophets, and kings are anointed. It means holy oil is poured over their heads because God chooses them for something very important. Oil does not wash away like water. It sinks into the skin; it becomes part of the body. When someone is anointed, holy oil is used—oil filled with the presence of God.
People wait for hundreds of years for the Anointed One to come. God tells the prophets, and they listen. In the holy scriptures, we hear about the Messiah who is to come.
Somehow, Peter knows that Jesus is the Messiah. Peter is not the smartest guy in the world. How can he know this?
Peter also calls Jesus the Son of the living God. Before Jesus is born, the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. (Luke 1:35)
The angel Gabriel tells Mary that Jesus will be called Son of God; today, we hear it happen! Peter calls Jesus the Son of God.
But why does Peter call Jesus Messiah and Son of God? Jesus does not go around calling himself these names. How can Peter know this about him?
There is only one way that Peter can know this. Jesus says,
“For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”
God gives this knowledge to Peter.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God reveals to Peter who Jesus is.
Son of God to Son of Jonah
Then Jesus names Peter right back.
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!...I tell you, you are Peter”
Peter's name, given to him by his parents, is actually Simon. But Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls him by a new name. He calls him "Peter" which means "rock."
Why does Jesus give Peter a new name?
Remember, Jesus begins by asking, "Who do you say I am?" which seems to mean, "Why are you following me? What are you expecting of me?" Now it seems Jesus is telling Peter, "This is who I say you are. This is why you follow. This is what I expect of you:
on this rock I will build my church”
What can Jesus mean? Peter is not really a rock. He might have strength like a rock, but come on—how can Jesus build a church on a person?
The word "church" is interesting, because in Jesus' time there are no churches in Israel; there are only synagogues. The word Jesus uses here means the people called to gather together. Peter as the rock, as the strong one, forms the foundation. He is the first one called, the one at the beginning of all the people called to gather. Jesus the Messiah, the Anointed One, the One Chosen by God, chooses Peter. He chooses Peter to be the beginning of the church.
Jesus tells Peter,
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of God
What are the keys of the Kingdom of God?
Jesus tells all those parables of the Kingdom of God—could parables be the keys of the Kingdom? Small like a mustard seed, great like hidden treasure...are these keys?
What about those miracles the disciples witness, that reveal something of the Kingdom of God—could these be the keys of the Kingdom, too?
Jesus gives them all to Peter. Peter, the rock, the beginning of the church. He has the keys of the Kingdom of God.
What does Peter do with the keys?
God reveals to Peter who Jesus is. But we know who Jesus is, too. We know Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. What God gives to Peter, God gives to us, too.
Jesus chooses Peter to begin the church, the gathering of the people of God. The Anointed One calls him by name. At our Baptism we are called by name and we are anointed—we become people of God. God chooses us. What God gives to Peter, God gives to us.
Jesus gives the keys of the kingdom of God to Peter at the beginning of the church. Peter holds the parables, the miracles—all the treasures.
We hold them, too, as we gather together to form the church.
What God gives to Peter, God gives to us.