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.
Today’s Gospel reading is familiar to us. It is familiar to us in the sense that this text has been used so often for apologetic purposes to reinforce our faith in the primacy of the Pope and the infallibility of his teaching office. Therefore, it is hard to recapture the drama, the uncertain silence that must have followed Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?”
The drama is told in three stages: the dialogue between Jesus and his disciples leading to Peter’s confession; Jesus bequeaths his authority to Peter; and Jesus gives his disciples the strict order not to tell anyone that he is the Christ.
Note the order of the two questions asked by Jesus. The first question is: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and the second question is: “But who do you say that I am?” Why these two question. Why Jesus asks them when he comes to the district of Caesarea Philippi?
Jesus asks the first question because he wants to clarify where he is in his life’s journey. He wants to know clearly about his identity. Identity is important to all of us. If we don’t know about our identity, we would have no idea where we are and where we are going to and what should we do.
To know our identity, we have to ask questions and ask feedback from others. For example, we all claim that we are good parents, good people, or good team players. But how true is this self-projected image? The authenticity of our identity can be validated by others. That is why Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The term “the Son of Man” is a common expression used by Jews for prophets. Without much thinking, the disciples answer him: “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
However, Jesus has to think hard about their answer because he wants to make sure whether he is one of the prophets or not. We can imagine that there should be a long pause before Jesus asks the second question. During that long pause, Jesus tests of his values and purpose. He might recall his meeting with John the Baptist in River Jordan and their conversation about his baptism by John. And he discovers that “Son of Man” is not his real identity though it sounds great and grand.
It is at this moment, he begins to realize his true identity. Again, he would like it to be confirmed by those who have lived and labored closely with him. So, he asks the disciples the second question: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Having heard Peter’s reply, there would be another long pause before Jesus says something. In that long pause, Jesus might recall his prayers with God and go into deep thoughts about Peter’s answer. At the end of the pause, he tells Peter: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”
It is only after Jesus fully recognizes his true identity then he exercises the power of his true identity as Messiah to confer his authority to Peter. It is with this conferment of Jesus that Peter gets his identity as well that is to follow his master. On the other hand, it is with this conferment that Jesus knows that he could go to Cavalry now because he has found someone to continue his mission on earth. If we read this part of the reading slowly, we can feel Jesus’ delight in being the son of God the Father and in Peter with confidence, hope, and joy.
The conclusion of today’s Gospel reading is a little bit hard for us to understand. However, if we see it in the light that we usually share who we truly are and about with close friends instead of trumpet it on facebook or twitter, it is not that hard to understand.
With Jesus, we ask about our true identity, values and purpose. Amen.