2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: Peter’s Confession of Faith (Mt 16:13-20)
13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But you,” he said, “who do you say I am?” 16Then Simon Peter spoke up, “You are the Christ,” he said, “the Son of the living God.” 17Jesus replied, “Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. 18So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.” 20Then he gave the disciples strict orders not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
2. 1- Explanation
In this text, there are two parts: the first (vv.13-16) deals with Jesus and who he is; and the second (vv. 17-20) is the response Jesus makes to Peter, emphasizing his specific role in relation to the other apostles, within the Christian community. The Gospel of Matthew is the Gospel of the Church; we see Peter’s personality emerge in several texts: walking on water, his profession of faith, and paying the tribute coin to Caesar. Jesus’ essential question concerned the “Son of Man” that is to say, Christ, coming at the end of time (Mt 24:44; Dan 7:13), a phrase which signifies Jesus himself. The response of the disciples was that a few thought the “Son of Man” was John the Baptist, as Herod had thought (Mt 14:2); others thought he was Elijah, that is, the expected prophet who would come to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah; and others said he was Jeremiah or one of the prophets, that is, those who enjoyed great favour before God for the people of Israel oppressed by Roman enemies. But Peter’s response was “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, a response expressing perfect faith in Jesus as the expected Christ, the Son of God of whom the Old Testament had spoken, and who will give eternal life by his death on the Cross. Of course, Peter’s answer was not easy to give, which is why Jesus answered by clarifying the following:
In v.17, the expression “flesh and blood” signifies the whole man, emphasizing the fragile, material and bodily side. Peter was privileged to receive a special divine revelation (Mt 11:25-27), and to receive the grace to know who Jesus really is, different from the understanding of the other disciples. That is what gave Peter and his successors, the popes, a special position in the responsibility of the Church, called the “Petrine Ministry”.
In v.18, Jesus names Simon “Peter” (Greek for ‘stone’ or ‘rock’), pointing out his special role in the construction of the Church. Indeed, the latter is founded on the rock of faith, and belongs to Christ. The first person singular in “my Church” indicates that all its officials are only stewards for the sole owner, that is Christ. He promised that she would be eternal, for she is founded on faith.
In v.19, we see that Peter was entrusted with the “keys”, which made him responsible for the “house”, welcoming into the community of believers, those who are of God, and refusing those who are not worthy of it. However, he has a duty not to be like the Pharisees, to whom Jesus addressed himself in these words: “Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who shut up the Kingdom of heaven in men’s faces, neither going in yourselves nor allowing others to go in who want to” (Mt 23:13). What is meant by “bind” and “loose”? These are two rabbinic expressions used by the legal scholars, in a dogmatic and legislative sense, in relation to what is permitted and what is forbidden.
2. 2- Summary and Practice
Jesus asks you today, dear catechumen, as he once asked his disciples: “Who am I to you?” Will your answer then be dictated by what you have learned in theology and catechism, or will it be based on your daily experience? The time has come to focus, in the first place, on your life as a Christian, on the personal experience you have with Christ, because this usually begins the journey of faith that will later be nourished by catechetical teaching.
Jesus promised that hell would not pass through the gates of the Church, built on the rock of faith. Two thousand years on, this is why the Church is still standing strong, despite many persecutions and wars. On the other hand, the promise of Jesus bears a vigorous warning for communities, families and people living apart from faith, in a life devoid of the spiritual depths sought by Jesus. This is something to be most feared, for collapse and extinction are on the horizon.