22 February [Chair of St Peter]
When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And 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. 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.’
Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350 – 428) commented: “Having said that Peter’s confession is a rock, Jesus stated, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church.’ This means he will build his Church upon this same confession and faith.” This is the “key to the Kingdom of heaven.”
When Jesus asked the disciples who the people believed he was, they gave him a list of dead men: “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” All dead. Peter alone mentioned life: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is the key to the Kingdom of heaven. It is to see Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He is not a dead man, he is living. There are many who have an interest in keeping him dead: then he is controllable, predictable, even saleable. But the truth is that he is not dead.
The key is to see that he is everywhere: he is looking out of the eyes of the stranger and the sinner and the outsider. A key can be turned into an instrument of exclusion and control. But this key is meant to be the opposite: it is for opening.
Chrysostom: “He did not ask ‘Who do the scribes and Pharisees say that I am?’ even though they had often come to talk with him. Rather, he asked, ‘Who do people say the Son of man is?’ as if to inquire about common opinion. Even if the common opinion was far less true than it might have been, it was at least freer of malice than the opinion of the religious leaders, who were reeking of bad motives.” The latter, and their successors throughout the ages, would like to see his tomb sealed, the heavy stone securely in place for all time.
Let’s not say ‘they’; let’s say ‘we’. The Gospel is always about us, not about ‘them’; Jesus spoke in the second person, he was not a social commentator or a journalist. The heavy stone represents the past; we live too much under its weight; we interpret the present not as something living and new but as something already dead and old. But there are moments when the stone moves aside, even if only a fraction of an inch, and we glimpse the living Christ, as Peter did. In such moments our faith is in living continuity with his.
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