Who do you say I am?
21st Sunday in OT

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

Even before surveys to determine the "pulse" of the population on certain specific issues have become a regular feature in a nation's life, Jesus was already doing it - though on a very small scale and thus in an "unscientific" manner. On one occasion, Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" (Mt. 16: 13-20) Their answer was immediate, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." Other people saw someone else in Jesus!

Now Jesus turned His disciples to find out what they knew of Him: "But you, who do you say that I am?" In the past three years, the disciples were constantly with Him. They had heard Him preach, watched Him perform miracles, and seen Him at prayer. Thus the question was important for Him. But when it was placed before them, the silence was deafening. Finally, Simon said, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

On hearing Simon's confession of faith in Him, Jesus blest him, saying, "This was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven," meaning, the knowledge of Who Jesus is does not come from human insight; it is the Father Himself who reveals it. Forthwith, Jesus changed Simon's name to Peter (Petros in Greek and Kepha in Aramaic) meaning, rock, giving him at the same time a special responsibility: "Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it." To be able to carry out this heavy responsibility, Jesus gave him the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" so that "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

What Jesus did to Peter must have come as a big surprise to the other disciples. For Peter was everything else but a rock--which is solid and firm. On the contrary, he was weak and changeable. Recall that after Jesus told His disciples that one of them would betray and turn Him over to the Jewish religious leaders and then be put to death, Peter confidently said that he would never do so. Yet when the moment came - during Jesus' passion - Peter denied Him three times, once before a harmless maiden!

And if love and loyalty were the basis for leadership of Jesus' Church, it would have to go to John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved." But Jesus chose Peter. For though He knew Peter as weak and imperfect, He was convinced that deep inside him was the childlike trait of putting his total security in Him, his "Messiah, the Son of the living God."

Many years ago, there was the movie titled "Quo Vadis," meaning "Where are you going?" It was about the persecution of the early Christians in Rome to discourage other people from believing in Jesus. While the persecution was raging, Peter fled, leaving behind the others to suffer and die, some by being fed to the lions. Then he met Jesus Who was walking towards Rome. Surprised, Peter asked Jesus, "Quo Vadis? Where are you going?" Jesus replied, "To Rome, to be crucified again."

Shamed, Peter came to the realization that if he believed in Jesus, then, like Him, he must also bear his own cross. So he returned to Rome and was eventually arrested. Sentenced to die by crucifixion, he asked to be crucified upside down (as Tradition tells us) because he deemed himself unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Master whom he betrayed thrice.

Here we see Jesus vindicated in His choice of Peter. He was right in seeing in Peter the innate capacity to rise up when he fell - an essential trait in a leader.

And here, too, we see that when Peter relied on himself, he had feet of clay. But when he relied on Jesus, he was steady as a rock. It was this reliance and faith in Jesus that made him follow Jesus even to martyrdom. It was also this trait that enabled him to build the early Church from the ground up. The same is true of the popes, Peter's successors as Christ's vicars, over the centuries. It was when they relied on Jesus that they were able to sail and steer the "bark of Peter" to harbor, the strong winds and big waves of conflicts, betrayals and even persecutions along the way notwithstanding.

We are asked to identify with Peter. His reliance in Jesus amidst his weakness tells us that despite our numerous shortcomings and sins, we too can rise up and find our way back to Jesus. And if we have betrayed Him by sinning--all sins are denials of Jesus--Peter's story can be a source of inspiration and hope for us.

Today, Jesus still asks each one of us, "Who do you say that I am?" Our answer will determine the kind of Christian life we will have. If like Peter we put our faith in Jesus, then we, too, will be able to overcome our trials and tribulations, no matter in what form they appear.