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21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Ages 9-12): Working Through Our Faith

 
 

At the beginning of the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus asks the disciples two questions. We have to wonder why he does this. What is his point?

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

The Son of Man is the title given to a figure in Hebrew scripture who seems to be a mighty warrior appointed by God to come to save Israel. The figure has no proper name. 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 a second question:

“But who do you say that I am?”

By asking these two questions together, it seems like Jesus wants to know if the disciples think that he is the Son of Man. Does Jesus 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 chosen by God—priests, prophets, and kings—are anointed. Holy oil is poured over their heads to show that God chooses them for an important mission. Oil is used to anoint because it does not wash away like water. It sinks into the skin; it becomes part of the body. The presence of God fills holy oil.


When Peter calls Jesus the Anointed One, he has in mind what God reveals to the prophets hundreds of years before. In the writings of the prophets, we hear about the Messiah coming to save Israel, to fulfil God's promises, to bring about the reign of the Kingdom of God.


Jesus does not call himself Messiah. But Peter names him Messiah.


Peter also calls Jesus the Son of the living God. This is what the angel Gabriel tells 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 tells this to Mary but who tells it to Peter?


The prophets do not describe the Messiah as the Son of God.

Holy Scripture does not describe the figure of the Son of Man as the Son of God.

The people waiting for the fulfilment of God's promises do not wait for the Son of God.


Jesus does not call himself Son of God. But Peter names him Son of God.


Somehow a fisherman, likely not highly educated, puts these two (or possibly three) titles together and uses them to name Jesus.


And then Jesus names Peter right back.

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!

Hold up.


Peter—actually named Simon by his parents—calls Jesus, "Son of God." He exalts Jesus.

Then 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. He is not important.

Is Jesus being mean? "I'm Son of God and you are son of nobody important!"

This does not sound right.


Jesus exclaims,

“For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”

God gives 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 can only come from God—Jesus recognizes the work of the Holy Spirit.

Like recognizes like.


When Peter, a mere human, names Jesus, we know this is God working through his faith. Peter's faith—not as unwavering as the Gentile 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. They work together.


This is Good News. This is Good News for us because are we not the church now, the church built on Peter's faith? 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.

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

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.

Whoa.

That is a lot of power and a lot of authority to give to an uneducated fisherman.

That 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?

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