(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
At the beginning of the Gospel for this Sunday Jesus asks the disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
The Son of Man is a figure in Hebrew scripture who seems to be a mighty warrior appointed by God to come to save Israel. The figure is nameless. The disciples know that people speculate about who this warrior might be:
“Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Then Jesus asks the disciples,
“But who do you say that I am?”
By asking the question this way, immediately after the last question, it seems like Jesus is asking if the disciples think that he is the Son of Man. Did he mean it to sound this way? Is Jesus a mighty warrior?
Peter answers. He does not say, as we might expect, "You are the Son of Man." Instead he says,
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Peter calls Jesus by two distinct, separate titles. He calls him "Messiah" which in English means "Anointed One." (Sometimes we hear "Christ" instead of Messiah. They mean the same. Messiah is Hebrew, Christ is Greek.) In the holy scriptures, people who are chosen by God--priests, prophets, and kings--are anointed. Holy oil is poured over their heads to show that they have been chosen for an important mission. Oil is used because it does not wash away like water. It sinks into the skin; it becomes part of the body. Holy oil is filled with the presence of God.
When Peter calls Jesus the Anointed One, he is thinking of what God had revealed to the prophets hundreds of years before. In the writings of the prophets, we hear about the Messiah who is coming to save Israel, to fulfil God's promises, to bring about the reign of the kingdom of God.
Jesus does not call himself this, but Peter names him Messiah.
Peter also says that Jesus is the Son of the living God. This is what the angel Gabriel told to Mary,
“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 told this to Mary but who told it to Peter?
In the writings of the prophets, the Messiah is not described as the Son of God. The figure of the Son of Man is also not described as the Son of God. The people waiting for the fulfilment of God's promises were not waiting for the Son of God.
Jesus does not call himself this, but Peter names him Son of God.
Somehow a fisherman, likely not highly educated, put these two (or possibly three) titles together and used them to name Jesus.
And then Jesus names Peter right back.
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!
Peter, who was actually named Simon by his parents, calls Jesus, "Son of God,"--exalting him--and Jesus turns around and calls Peter, "son of Jonah"? Son of whom? Nobody has heard of Peter's father before, and nobody will ever hear of him again. Is Jesus being mean? "I'm Son of God and you are son of nobody important!" That doesn't sound right.
“For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”
God has given this knowledge to Peter the human son of nobody important. Jesus recognizes the power of the Holy Spirit; after all, he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in Baptism. When Peter says, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,"--knowledge that could only have come from God--Jesus recognizes the work of the Holy Spirit. Like recognizes like.
When Peter, a mere human, names Jesus, it is God working through his faith. Peter's faith--not as unwavering as the Canaanite woman last week, not strong enough to support him walking on water--is enough for God to work.
In fact, because of this faith, Jesus goes on naming Peter:
“I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
Jesus gives Peter the name that means rock. Even though Peter's faith is not the strongest faith, even though Peter makes many mistakes (just wait until next week's Gospel!), it is strong enough to build the church. It is strong enough to withstand the power of evil. God collaborates with Peter.
This is Good News because aren't we the church now? God collaborates with us.
And does our faith sometimes waver like Peter's? And do we make mistakes and poor choices? And does evil still try to batter the church?
Yes, yes, yes.
But our faith is enough for God to work.
Jesus says to Peter,
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Jesus gives Peter the power and authority to build the kingdom of God here on earth.
This is a lot of power and a lot of authority to give to an uneducated fisherman.
This is a lot of power and a lot of authority to give to a church whose faith wavers and who makes mistakes.
But where does this power come from? Whose authority is it?
It comes from God who collaborates with us, who works through our faith.
It begins with a question,
“But who do you say that I am?”
How will we answer?