Jesus said to his disciples, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Matthew 16:15-16
Today, the Church remembers St. Peter’s confession of faith, a momentous occasion in Matthew’s Gospel as Peter is the first person to identify Jesus as the Christ. It is serendipitous that this commemoration happens between the Sunday Lectionary cycle of the calling of the first disciples, last week from John’s Gospel and this week from Matthew. In John, Peter’s brother, Andrew, testifies that they have found the Messiah before Peter ever meets Jesus. In Matthew, it takes 12 chapters between being called to follow Jesus and Peter’s confession – but he still chose to follow.
We could focus on how the details of the various Gospel’s are inconsistent of who did what when, however that is not a helpful enterprise since the intention is the same – belief in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son sent from God.
The crux of Peter’s confession is his faith and trust in Jesus in that moment. Regardless of what others are saying who Jesus is or isn’t, Peter knows him to be the Messiah. This is the same confession we make when we say the Nicene Creed – a confession of faith – during our worship services. It is making a public statement that we believe in God’s actions and interactions in the world in order to save us. Offering these words makes us a “Confessional Church,” one that boldly proclaims God’s existence and presence in the world.
Jesus’ question to his disciples is essentially what is asked of people making their Confirmation, the rite of offering an adult profession of faith. For those baptized too young to make their own confession, parents and godparents offer it on behalf of the child, with the expectation that at some point that child, being raised as a Christian, will take on that identity for him or herself and be able to answer, “But who do you say that I am?” with authenticity.
We, however, are not limited to rites and liturgies to confess our faith. Anytime we question what is happening in the world and God’s presence in the midst of time, we should stop for a moment and ask ourselves if we really believe Jesus is the Messiah, not only for ourselves, but for the whole world – including those we disagree with and even our enemies.
It is important to remember that even Peter had a difficult time understanding and accepting what Jesus being the Messiah really meant. In just 7 verses following his confession, Peter is called “Satan” by Jesus for denying that Jesus had to be killed. It is one thing to proclaim belief in an identity. It is another to accept what the identity entails.
Similarly, we can say a confession over and over without faith or belief. Until we allow the words to transform our hearts, minds and souls, nothing changes. Transformation is chaotic, uncomfortable and scary, which is why many avoid it. But we are called to be brave and bold before God, trusting that the living God is loving and supporting us, especially when things seem the bleakest. Even death could not stop God from acting, redeeming us all, including Peter.
I believe that nothing and no one can inhibit the Messiah, who came to take away the sin of the world. That work has already been accomplished. It is up to each one of us to choose to believe that reality and live into it, no matter the circumstances. That is the true test of faith.