8 verses. Today’s Gospel reading is just 8 verses. And yet in those 8 verses is enough material and insight for more sermons, talks and reflections than you could shake the proverbial stick at. In those 8 verses is something that sits at the very heart of our Christian faith. Those eight verses drip with Christian doctrine – predominantly the question who is this man Jesus? How does this link with the Trinity? Who is God? It links with beliefs around salvation and sin. I hope I’ve got the point across – in these 8 verses, often called the ‘confession of Peter’ – are things that we really need to take note of, unpack, start to understand and then bring into the heart of our Christian faith. This great confession is important and we need to delve into it’s riches.
And my declaration to you today is that probably my favourite person in the Bible, other than Jesus, obviously, is Peter. And why do I like Peter? The answer is because he’s human. For me, Peter’s faith isn’t perfect, in fact it’s as human as it comes. I like Peter because once you can get away from viewing him as one of the giants of the church you can see a man who had his own struggles with faith. Once you strip away 2000 years of history you find a man who had a deep heart for God, but one who beautifully managed to get it right one minute and then screw it up the next. For me, Peter demonstrates that Jesus chose someone to be close to him who I can relate to, someone far from perfect who keeps trying to get it right but often stumbles and gets it wrong. And so, if God invites Peter in, then there’s hope for me, and all of us too!
But in today’s Gospel reading we have Peter getting it completely right, although I can’t help wonder if he gets it right almost unwillingly. If you remember, Jesus firstly asks all his disciples a question: ‘who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ and they all give various answers. But then Jesus directs a question directly to the disciples ‘But who do you say I am?’ and there isn’t quite the same flurry of answers. I almost imagine that poor Peter was either being poked by the others to answer or they do that thing where everyone else takes a step back only for Peter to realise that he is standing in front of them all and needs to give an answer. But the important thing for me is that it feels like Peter gives the answer on behalf of them all. This isn’t just Peter’s answer but rather he is answering on behalf of all the disciples and to take this even further Peter is therefore answering on behalf of us all. What’s important for me is that 2000 years ago Peter received this divine revelation from God that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God and he makes this declaration on behalf of the disciples and on behalf of us all. That Peter, who in his life was broken, awkward, scrabbling for answers is given a divine revelation from God so that we can all learn from his faith and his answer.
But it is a question that each of us must return to. That as we continue our journey with God we will need to answer this question which Peter answered. Origen, who was one of the early church theologians, wrote that Peter’s confession is one which every Christian makes. And so, at the heart of today’s reading is a question to each of us. That as we allow God into our lives Jesus will ask each of us ‘who do you say that I am?’. Not ‘who does the church say that I am’, or ‘who does the vicar say that I am,’ nor ‘who does the person who sits next to me on a pew say that I am’ but instead asks a direct question we need to work at answering: ‘who do you say that I am?’. And so, today’s Gospel isn’t just about hearing Peter’s response is, but is also about how we all respond to that question because our answer is at the heart of our faith. How do we take time to listen to the divine revelation of who Jesus is and how this then develops and deepens our faith just as it did to Peter and the other disciples?
So today I urge you to take hope in God revealing who Christ was to a broken human being because our own brokenness is not a barrier to the same divine revelation. But I also urge you to stand before Jesus in your own mind and work, wrestle and pray on the question he asked to the disciples: ‘who do you say that I am?’ and in doing so develop your own understanding of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah and God the Son, redeemer of the world.
- Imagine Jesus standing before you and asks you ‘who do you say that I am’ – how would you respond, and why?
- How do you feel about the humanity of the disciples? Does their brokenness help or hinder your own Christian journey and why?