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‘Who do you say that I am?’

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Gospel Commentary Aug. 23, Mt 16:13-20

Imagine taking a walk with Jesus and a crowd of his disciples and watching him stop suddenly, turn around, look you in the eye, and ask you, “Who do you say that I am?”

Our answer to that question is important. We believe that Jesus is God. Consequently, he is bigger than any of our categories and ways of understanding reality. We can’t fit him into one box or even several boxes. Yet, as big and eternal as he is, he stoops down to us and humbly and lovingly serves us in many ways.

Jesus is the only begotten Son of our heavenly Father. He is the Messiah, the anointed one that God promised to intervene and transform the world. He is our savior who redeemed me, you and the rest of the world from sin and death by freely offering his life to the Father in the greatest act of love the world has ever known. He is the divine physician who heals us on many levels with his love, mercy and truth. He is the good shepherd who seeks us out when we wander and leads us back to green pastures. He is our best friend, the most faithful and generous one we will ever possibly encounter.

Again, right now, at this moment in your life, Jesus asks you, “Who do you say that I am?”

My second focus for today is that Jesus is truth. He revealed powerful, earth-shattering truths about the nature and reality of God. He also revealed truths about the narrow path established by God that leads us to the fullness of life for human beings. Jesus preached the truth and lived the truth. He said to Pontius Pilate at the end of his life, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (Jn 18: 38).

Continuing with his earth-shattering ways, Jesus chose to share his teaching authority with the church. He did so by bestowing the Holy Spirit upon the church to lead us to all truth. Our Blessed Lord also shared his authority with the church by bestowing unique office on Peter, placing him at the head of the apostles and of the church. After Peter’s confession of faith (“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”), which was inspired by God the Father, Jesus says, “And I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Faithful Jews recognize in this passage several uses of rabbinical language (a name change, gates, keys, binding and loosing) which refer to the handing on of authority, especially teaching authority. Jesus is bestows a unique authority upon the church through the person and office of Peter, as head of the apostles, an authority that was intended to continue down through the ages so the church could continue to cherish, proclaim, preserve and further understand the truths of faith and morals needed for our eternal salvation.

Thirdly, Jesus bestows wisdom. Wisdom is distinct from intelligence. Intelligence is a sharpness of mind. It may include being good with numbers, grasping complicated scientific principles, thinking logically and clearly, making connections among various fields of study, or being able to retain large quantities of information.

Intelligence is a great gift, but, sadly, it can be soured by selfishness and hatred. We can use intelligence to impact the world in wonderfully positive ways like St. John Paul II or we can use it to bring great destruction upon the world like Adolph Hitler. We can use intelligence solely for personal gain and at the great expense of our neighbor.

Wisdom on the other hand is seeing the world with God’s eyes. It is grasping the bigger picture of life and maintaining a perspective on heaven. Wisdom is staying focused on what is truly important. It avoids being distracted by the false attractions of a materialistic world as well as the smaller, less important elements of daily life. It includes trusting God even when his plans do not make sense to us at any given moment. Wisdom is a grace that comes from God and a true desire to think, will, love and serve in imitation of Jesus.

Today’s readings invite us to consider a few questions. Who do you say that I am? Where do you turn for authoritative teaching about issues of faith and morals? Do you seek each day the wisdom of God?

Fr. Peterson is director of mission and development for the Youth Apostles.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020