Now 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.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. (Matthew 16:13-19 – NRSV)
1. Similar accounts can be found in Mark 8:27–30 and Luke 9:18–20. Of the three accounts, Matthew is the most detailed.
2. Matthew alone focuses on the name:
a. Jesus firstly addresses the one we have come to know as Peter, as “Simon son of Jonah”
b. Then he calls him “Peter”: “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”. There is a play on words here: The Greek word we translate as “Peter” is Petros (Πέτρος) and the Greek word we translate as “rock” is petra (πέτρα).
c. Peter might have been a nick name for Simon? It is already used in Matthew 10:2 where the apostles are named.
3. The word “blessed” – makarios (μακάριος) – applied by Jesus to Peter, is the same word that is used repeatedly in the Sermon on the Mount to describe those who will be part of the kingdom – see Matthew 5:3-12.
4. It seems reasonable to read these verses of Matthew 16:16-19 in conjunction with 16:21-23.
a. In verses 16-19 we note that, when Peter declares his faith in Jesus as the Messiah (the Christ), Jesus responds by saying
i. Peter is the rock and
ii. The words he speaks come from “my Father in heaven”
b. In verses 21-23 we note that, when Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him for speaking of the Cross, Jesus responds by saying
i. Peter is a stumbling block and
ii. The words he speaks come from Satan
c. Taking these verses as a unit may help Catholics to get a better perspective on Peter in history.
Pope Francis, in his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, writes:
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.” (Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, 24 November 2013, #3)
He then goes on to quote that remarkable passage at the beginning of Pope Benedict’s first Encyclical, Deus Caritas East:
“‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’ (Pope Benedict, Deus Caritas Est, #1).
Pope Francis continues:
“Thanks solely to this encounter – or renewed encounter – with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being.” (Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, 24 November 2013, #7-8)
Pope Francis encourages us all to be constantly open to encounter with God in order to maintain our hope and our energy for what matters:
“Without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless; we lose energy as a result of weariness and difficulties, and our fervour dies out.” (Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, 24 November 2013, #262)
Today’s Gospel describes one such encounter with Jesus: “Who do you say I am?” The question to the disciples is also the question to each of us. And the question is an invitation. Listen to it with the ear of your heart – as St Benedict would say – and wait for the response to emerge from your depths.
Your might like to explore Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation some more:
Download a pdf of the Apostolic Exhortation
Some technical details about the Apostolic Exhortation
Audio version of Evangelii Gaudium
A panel discussion and forum – on You Tube, more than one hour, published April 9 2014 – particularly good!