The uniqueness and the loftiness of St. Peter’s mission might be prompting in us the wrong reaction, such as: “Well isn’t that grand! Look at the greatness and the majesty of St. Peter’s primacy over the whole Church!” Or: “That is something that continues down the centuries but it involves strictly the Pope as St. Peter’s legitimate successor.”
If this were to be our reaction we would get merely confirmation of the solidity of our faith and of our being Catholics.
I am referring, of course, to the solidity of the major tenets of our faith that are proposed to every generation of Catholics by the visible representative of Christ among us. This idea of solidity is conveyed by the image of a peg provided us by the Prophet Isaiah (22:19-23): “I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot.”
The Pope holds the Church together the way a wooden peg holds a piece of Amish furniture together, firmly. The idea of solidity is conveyed even more so by the image of a Rock, Peter’s new identity. This analogy is strengthened by reference to holding very important keys. So forceful it is that when the one chosen by God opens, no one can shut, and whenever he shuts, no one can open. (cf. Isaiah 22: 22) This uniqueness is due to the awesome fact that God has established a direct linkage between himself and Peter, between heaven and earth.
All this, of course, is comforting and reassuring. But there is much more in the template of God’s Word for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. There is something that applies to each one of us, no matter how insignificant or unassuming we might think we are.
The starting point must be the concept of Jesus as “Son of Man.” This image was chosen by Christ from the many offered by the prophets of old because it is the one that allows the fullest revelation of him as the only bridge, (link) between God and mankind, between heaven and earth. Actually this emphasis on the humanness of Christ, his concreteness, his physicality is not only the sole way for Him to touch each one of us in our humanity but also the only way we can respond to him in a fashion pleasing to him and befitting his divine plan. Let me expand on this concept (which we should all find extremely comforting) by delving into today’s readings: (Isaiah 22:19-23, Romans 11:33-36, Matthew 16:13-20).
The Son of Man is this link between what is divine and infinite with what is mortal and fragile. This holds true from creation all the way to the time Jesus walked on this earth and now, through each human being united to him, until his Body is totally glorified at the end of time. The Son of Man is the means used by God to execute each aspect of his divine plan, including the thrusting from office of Shebna and the summoning of Eliakim to take his place.
In the Gospel of Matthew (16:13-20), The Father reveals this Son of Man as the One he has anointed to make us divine. This is a revelation beyond what flesh and blood could have done in Peter’s mind, beset with weaknesses and limitations. Peter and any of us, no matter how brilliant our mind might be, could never go past the flesh and blood of Jesus’ humanity to see and identify the Son of the living God. And, finally, the Son of Man gives meaning to the messy and embarrassing life of Peter and of each one of us by being forever present to the Father in the fullness of his humanity. In other words, Jesus, the Son of the living God, is forever present at the right hand of the Father with his glorified body still showing the scars of his and ours very human wounds.
This explains the mystery of what is described by the gospel a few lines past this triumphant exploit of Peter: the fact that Peter, in his humanity, could not understand how it was necessary for Jesus to the crushed and erased from this world in the most shameful way, on a cross. It also justifies how this prompted Jesus to call him “Satan.” Amazingly, it sheds light even on why he was chosen in spite of his threefold denial of Jesus when Jesus needed him the most. And this confirms why Jesus (cf. Hebrews 2:11) is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters before our common Father.
However, today, the Son of Man expects of each one of us a direct and very personal identification of who he is. “But who do you say that I am?”
And this, my friends, is something that, by necessity, we must do, albeit hesitantly, painfully, amid doubts and mistakes—all by ourselves. I mean, the solidity of the rock, the uniqueness of the keys wielded by Peter and his successors do not help us; they are just the basis on which we ought to build our rapport with Jesus. We are on our own. Jesus won’t have it any other way. Furthermore, even if we wanted, we couldn’t answer this question right now. But we ought to begin right now!
It will take a lifetime because it can be answered only as we establish a relationship of intimate love with Jesus beyond our sins, our errors, our stubbornness, our hesitations, our fears and all the other embarrassing incidents scattered all over the span of our life. This is accomplished little by little, in silence, in contemplation of his life within us, painstakingly, with perseverance and endurance born of sincere love, in refined awareness that something beyond words is taking place within. So, occasionally we would experience what Paul experienced in his Letter to the Romans (11:33-36): being totally overwhelmed by insights doled out to us with generosity by Jesus and we will feel very small, yet loved so much.
From time to time, he, Jesus, will ask us by name: “Friend,, do you love me?” and eventually, in spite of everything we should answer: “Lord, you know everything, (because you are the Son of Man), you know that I love you!”