(Is.22:19-23, Ps.138:1-8, Rom.11:33-36 & Matt.16:13:20)
In the Gospel reading of this today, something spectacular happened in the city of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus did something dramatic and monumental among His Disciples. As Jesus moved towards the last segment of His earthly mission and was now heading to Jerusalem with His Disciples and at the region of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus called His Disciples by the side and presents them with a crucial question to ascertain from them who the people say He (Jesus) is, and who they themselves understand Him to be?
Straight away, His Disciples started to give their feedback of what they hear from the people about Jesus. Some say you are John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the ancient prophets who has come back to life.
Good! Jesus would say. These are people’s opinions about Me. What about you, that have been with me all this while, ‘Who do you say I am?’ By this question Jesus is as well asking us individually today as His followers, Who Am I to you? It is not just enough for you to have a head knowledge of what other people say about Jesus without having your own personal knowledge and experience of who Jesus is to your life. You have to build up a personal relationship with Jesus based on who you take Him to be in your life.
Jesus throws this challenging question to His Disciples because they are the ones who would make Him and His message known to the wider world thereafter. And if they do not have adequate knowledge of who Jesus is to them and as well build a lasting relationship with Him, apparently they would be lacking in their message and zeal to bear Jesus lasting witness. This personal knowledge of who Jesus is, as well as having a loving relationship with Him, remains the secret of the Saints and Martyrs. Why? Because when one has a proper knowledge and love-relationship with Jesus, there is no length one would not go so as to bear Jesus lasting witness to make His Gospel message known.
Therefore, reflect today, on who Jesus is to you personally. And how, who He is to you reflects in your daily life and activities. Our attitude to life should be able to express who we take Jesus to be. Knowing and believing in Jesus involves living the way Jesus lived (1Jn.2:6), otherwise, our knowledge of Him would just be an empty one.
Meanwhile, Simon Peter’s response to Jesus’ question remains quite remarkable; ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ Peter answered. At this Jesus called him, ‘Simon son of Jonah you are a happy man, because it was not flesh and blood that REVEALED this to you but my Father in heaven’. Here Jesus calls Simon by a new name ‘Peter’ (meaning rock in Aramaic) indicating the special role which Peter is chosen to play as the ‘rock’ upon which Jesus would build His Church, a Church that no powers would ever overcome because it is founded in Christ Himself, (Mt.16:18-19).
By this Act, Jesus constitutes Peter the head of the Apostles, the supreme Pontiff.
He confers on Peter the authority to govern the Church, ‘to bind and to unbind’ by giving him the ‘keys of the kingdom of heaven’ a symbol of authority and governance. For the Jews, the expression, ‘to bind and to unbind’ means to declare or regulate what is forbidden and what is allowed. That is the ruling office of Peter and his successors in communion with the college of bishops. To guide and direct the Church in the name of the Lord. And as Jesus assures, their decisions will be sanctioned by God, ‘whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven… (v 19).
This incident at Caesarea Philippi remains quite remarkable in the life of the Church.
It tells us that the foundation of the Church centers solely on the FAITH we have in Jesus the Christ and the Son of God as Peter PROFESSED Him today. And that, this faith in Jesus Christ which Peter is the first to profess among other Apostles, comes from God and not from flesh and blood or from any human sentiments and opinion. Faith remains a supernatural gift which only God bestows.
Again, the incident at Caesarea Philipp also points to the primacy of Peter among all other Apostles as the visible head which Jesus constitutes him to be. Therefore, as Catholics, we are united into One body -the Church with Christ as our head and with Peter’s successor as our visible leader here on earth.