Whole books have been written about the question Jesus posed to His disciples at the start of today’s Gospel, “Who do you say that I am?” It is a question every follower of Jesus has to grapple with at some point in their spiritual journey. Is Jesus just a nice guy who taught some nice things? Is He a prophet who wants you to change some parts of your life if you feel like it? Is He the Savior of the whole world yet your most intimate companion who desires you to commit yourself to him every moment of every day? Our answers to these questions radically affect how we live our lives.
Something beautiful happens in today’s Gospel between Peter and Jesus. Peter, rightly, names Jesus for who He is – the Christ. The Holy Spirit revealed to Peter Jesus’ true identity. It’s not that Jesus had hidden it, but that it was so profound human hearts could not fully grapple with it. Even to today, we cannot adequately explain with our human understanding how Jesus is fully God and fully human. The Incarnation is a mystery only to be fully beheld in heaven.
Nonetheless, Peter’s ability to name Jesus as the Christ reveals something critical for all Christians who follow after him. Peter knew who Jesus was – The Lord. Names are of special importance in the Bible and in Jewish culture. To know someone’s name meant to have some claim of ownership or control over it. God gave the animals to Adam to name, to have authority over and to be stewards of.
When Peter names Jesus, he was entering into this sacred space with Jesus. However, God is not controlled by human beings and certainly does not submit to our authority. So what was happening here? Let’s listen to Dr. Richard Bulzacchelli of the St. Paul Center regarding God’s name. He is speaking about God’s revelation to Moses, but I see how this same lesson applies here because Peter’s confession comes from the Holy Spirit’s revelation.
“Thus, when God reveals his name to Moses and, through Moses, to Israel, he is voluntarily assuming a posture of vulnerability before them, yet, there is no way they can actually control him or do him harm. He does not need them but only wants them. His vulnerability is based entirely on his own intention to bless and to love a creature whom he made capable of a free response. Thus, God is saying that he will answer all who call upon his name, not because he must, not because they have exercised any power over him by invoking his name, but because he now pledges to be their God and to cherish them as his own. His name is, thus, also a promise. It means, ‘I am present to you always and everywhere,’ an idea represented in the word ‘Emmanuel,’ or, ‘God-with-us.’”
Jesus, Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us, is the same friend Peter proclaimed as his Lord. Jesus is waiting for our heartfelt confession of His rightful place in our lives. Will we proclaim Him the Christ of our heart today?
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