by Rev. Luke Dundon
First Reading - Isaiah 22:19-23
Responsorial Psalm - 138:1-2.2-3, 6,8
Second Reading - Romans 11:33-36
Gospel - Matthew 16:13-20
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
Jesus went into the region of Caesarea
Philippi and he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the son of Man is?"
They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah
or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God."
Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For
flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And
so 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."
Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
It was junior year at Bishop O’Connell High School. I was on the Cross-Country team, and we had a race at the park not far from Leesburg. Having devoured a bunch of Power Bars before the race, I was full of energy, and was ready to leap over the hills once the gun went off…only after the gun went off did I realize I hadn’t drunk much water, so the “gazelle” started to get a little delirious as he was bolting across the fields and trails…the finish line finally came in sight…blurry sight…I approached the finish…and evidently I crossed it, though I really don’t remember doing so.
The only thing I really remember is my dad standing with me by a fence, congratulating me on a job well-done. Well-done what? “Well, Luke, you’re looking tired, let’s get you some water.” Luke – was that me? And, why am I leaning against a fence? What am I doing here? I do remember asking my dad, “where am I?” A little amnesia due to the dehydration, and so I started to panic – I almost instinctively wanted to figure out who I was, where I was and what I was doing there…only then would things make sense…
Our Lord Himself seems to be suffering from amnesia in today’s Gospel. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Well, John the Baptist, perhaps Elijah, maybe Jeremiah? No good…no agreement…turning to the 12 again, He asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Am I a Son of Man? Am I something more? Who am I?
Who am I indeed…do you remember all that I have done? You have seen me multiply bread and fish in abundance, you have seen me walk on water, you have seen me reach out to the Gentiles…enough of my actions for now, let’s get to the foundation of things – who do you say that I am? It’s so important to know the identity of this man before them…and so one of them responds…
Cooperating with the Holy Spirit, Simon finally acknowledges, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Christ – the Messiah, the mission, the Savior who has come for His people. Son of the Living God – the identity, the Person, the Lord who has come from Heaven to those whom He loves.
Simon names Jesus for who He truly is, and so Christ reveals to Simon who he truly is…You are Peter. You have correctly found my true identity, Simon, you have encountered me in a whole new way – consequently, I give you your true identity, a new name that contains everything. Not a common name like James or John; “Peter” refers to what we see in a mining quarry, rock! Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, I say to you, you are rock. A different sort of name, but, upon this rock I will build my Church. The gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it, for I will give you the keys to the kingdom of Heaven.
It would have been very significant to Peter and the other 11 to hear this…the cornerstone, the “Corner-rock” of the Jerusalem Temple…all Jews knew that it covered a tunnel to the underworld, so this rock was the juncture point between Heaven and Hades. In this netherworld existed the powers of death and deception. The gates of this netherworld could now be controlled, not by a piece of stone of the Jerusalem temple, but by the rock established by Christ, the rock who also walked on water, the rock who would be the first Pope, the rock who, with his successors, still holds the keys to the gates of forgiveness and salvation found in the confessional. Death would be conquered and deception would be quelled by Christ’s new representative. He would now have the power to forgive sins and free God’s people; how? By the power of his new identity.
So, perhaps, this new name, rock, is not so strange after all. Peter has received his very vocation and mission, his new identity, by professing faith in Christ as the Son of the Living God. At the Sacrament of Baptism, a candidate repents from sin and professes his or her belief in the Living God. Water is then poured – the words are spoken, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. You have received a new identity, you have received a new name. On the morning of Holy Saturday, there is a Rite for the Elect, who are about to be brought into the Church on Easter Vigil, after a year of studying the Faith in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). They profess the Creed, have their ears and mouth touched to signify Christ opening them for the Word of God, and they choose a Christian name, the new name which will be used at their baptism that evening.
It’s all in the name – in ancient Judaic culture, to know a person’s name, to know a person’s identity, and especially, to use it, revealed a personal relationship, a personal “ownership” of the other person. Yahweh’s name could not be mentioned by any Jews, out of respect for his otherness and omnipotent power. However, this same God has now become man, and has just been named a by a Jew by the first pope. Jesus Christ has consequently established a relationship with Simon Peter, and does so with all the baptized. At the Creed in Mass, let us remember our own names given at our baptisms at which we found for Christ for the first time. The Creed is able to change to I believe – how appropriate, for each have a unique name given to us by Christ! Any cases of amnesia re resolved, things do make sense as Peter confesses Jesus’ true name and identity, and Peter in turn receives his…in the encounter with Christ. We encountered our Lord for the first time at baptism, we shall encounter him again at this Holy Eucharist, because we are in a sacred relationship with him, a relationship we really need…because in finding who He is, we find who we are as well.