This Sunday we celebrate the feast of two of the greatest saints of the Catholic world, Saints Peter and Paul. Simon Peter, the fisherman, strong and sturdy of build with thick curly hair (as we know from an early medallion), was outgoing, generous, and impetuous. Paul, the intellectual, was thin-faced and balding, with deep-set piercing eyes.
The question Jesus puts to Peter in our Gospel reading is one he asks each us of today who do you say I am, who do we say Jesus is? At various times in our lives our response will differ, depending on the circumstances that confront us. During our broken times we might need Jesus to be our healer. When we must stand up for our faith against the actions or views of others we want Jesus to be the strong one for us. When our prayer feels dry and our perseverance in faith threatened as often times they will, Jesus must be “living water” in our desert. When we must be constant for a troubled member of our family Jesus, “the living bread,” must be our nourishment. Thankfully Jesus isn’t just a plaster statue, Jesus is the concrete sign and reminder to us of our “living God.”
Jesus is with us when we are broken and weak, he is with us when we stand up for our faith and he is with us when our prayer life seems dry he is the water in the desert of our daily lives. He is also the constant who is with us and our families in good times and in bad. What brings us together this Sunday and every Sunday isn’t what binds other individuals into a community. It isn’t our common ancestry, race, language, nationality or economic sameness though these may well be important. The common thread drawing us is our shared faith in God and one another. With Peter we profess Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” We may express that in different languages and varied cultural expressions but, in one way or another, we proclaim the same thing: Jesus is our Lord, the Son of the living God.
Today’s episode is a key turning point in Matthews gospel. Jesus praises Peter’s response as one of a true disciple who understands Jesus’ uniqueness and importance. Was Matthew trying to show how insightful Peter was? No, because while Jesus affirms Peter’s response, he also names how Peter came to it. It was a gift of God. We celebrate Peter and Paul, our great heroes of faith. But we remember that is not how they started out. Through these very limited humans God has done a great thing. Once they expressed their faith, God could begin building the church of those who witness in Jesus’ name. Like Peter and Paul all of us are required to witness to Christ and some may even have to give their lives in his name. Jesus is at work in the church, building us up, healing our wounds, helping us resist the forces of sin and death. Jesus assures us that the church, built on the faith Peter will prevail against all the evil the world can throw against it and here we are over 2,000 years later expressing the faith that Peter expressed all those years ago when he said ‘You are the Christ the Son of the living God.’