Obviously, upon hearing our Gospel passage (Mt 16:13-20) for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, we could stress Jesus’ solemn promise to be always with Peter and his successors, the Popes, throughout the history of the Church. However, misinterpreting this promise of divine election and protection, some Popes’ rule degenerated into triumphalism. For this reason, I think that it is necessary to look at this template of God’s Word from a different perspective so that we may all benefit spiritually as we see it applied also to our individual situation. Then, focused and personalized, this template would revolve around an existential question:
“Who is Jesus Christ, as Son of Man, for me?”
To answer this crucial question correctly we ought, first of all, to be clear about the significance of the term “Son of Man.”
“Son of Man” means the second Person of the Holy Trinity in human flesh. It reminds us forcefully that, in His insane, infinite love, in Christ Jesus, God has deliberately become one like us, with all our human limits, frailty, miseries—and weaknesses, so that He could show us how to become like Him by reliance on the power of His Spirit.
Now that this term is clear, each one of us can be opened to the realization that Jesus is unique and say that, in his uniqueness, he desires most ardently to establish a relationship of love with little, miserable, lowly me.
He is unique. This is what Simon Peter received as a revelation from above. Jesus has no duplicates, no replicas, and no clones. He is unique; he is infinitely much more than John the Baptist, than Elijah, Jeremiah or any of the other prophets. This is how we ought to reason: now, if Simon’s insight is correct, (Jesus confirms this most solemnly) it means that, as soon as I respond to him with an open mind and a sincere heart, Jesus’ uniqueness makes me unique as well.
Yet, even if I had an identical twin, he/she, too, would be unique in Christ Jesus. If nurtured properly with God’s Word and the Sacraments, this relationship that makes me unique in God’s eyes, will transform me into precisely the person, the image of Christ that the Father has intended for me to become.
By divine dictum, Simon becomes “Rock.” Kephas in Aramaic, Petros in Greek, Petra in Latin, Peter in English. Notice that this is not simply a vague, whimsical change, but one that goes directly to the core of our personality. The nature and qualities of a rock are immediately grasped by anyone who has ever felt or dealt with a large stone.
In our individual cases, what this entails is that, for a few weeks at least, we should focus on finding out what is our best personality trait in God’s eyes. If we are fine-tuned to God’s wavelength, after that period, we will hear Jesus telling us: “You are Mr. Creativity; you are Mrs. Optimism; you are Miss Reassurance; you are Ms. Serenity; you are Mister Resolve. I intend to use you and your good qualities on my team to build my Church, my Community of faith, my cluster of genuine Christian families, and so on.”
Now, if you wonder what the Lord might want me to be, it is “Father Loyalty.” I am pretty confident that this is what the Lord wants me to be. Once I make my choice, once I make a promise, I stick with it through thick and thin.
So, what is the Lord calling each one of us to be in His Mystical Body, the Church? We have to find out in the light of the Holy Spirit and work on it with His help.
To achieve this end, the Lord assures us that the Father will shower us with insights that belong to a super-nature, the divine nature which is always quite distinct from flesh and blood, from mere human nature and our meager resources.
And to this end, the Lord Jesus entrusts us also with the keys of the Kingdom. Even these keys are unique. “[…] when he opens, no one shall shut; when he shuts, no one shall open. (cf. Isaiah 22:22) This is quite incredible and remarkable. Think about it: no other key can open or shut what these heavenly keys open and lock. Here again, there are no duplicates, no copies, no substitutes.
It reminds me of what Jesus says in Matthew 11:25: At that time Jesus said in reply, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”
The world, the mass media, the experts, the pundits and those who rely on themselves and on mere human knowledge do not have these keys. Actually, they do not even have a clue! Yet, there is even more in this transformation of our self that the Lord proposes. These keys of the Kingdom are in essence, faith, hope and love.
The forces of darkness and evil are powerless if our faith and trust in God are such that we sense, at gut level, that He is truly in control of every aspect of our present and of our future.
The gates of hell cannot prevail over us if our hope in the Father’s care for us remains unwavering in spite of whatever might happen to us from one day to the next.
The netherworld cannot yank us away from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Quite the contrary: its very existence would spur us on to respond to that love by offering our loving and joyous service to others.
However, if our reflection were to stop at this point, we too would run the risk of falling into triumphalism. At home, if we read on past what is narrated in our Gospel passage, we will find out that Peter, the Rock, reverts to being Simon. He reasons, again, the way any uninspired human being would. Thus he receives from angry Jesus the epithet “Satan.”
Simon Peter, as well as any of us, can become one of Satan’s minions if he/she were to drop the keys of the Kingdom; if he/she were to close mind and heart to the divine insights from the Holy Spirit; if he/she were to resist the transformation that the Lord intends to carry out for them.
Docility, humility, unwavering trust are crucial for success.
Hence, if we stay on the path marked out for us today, in due course, we would be able to respond to that fundamental question by saying to Jesus:
You have truly become EVERYTHING for me, O Lord.