Matthew 16:13-20 - Through todays Gospel we find a deeper understanding of not only who Jesus is, but who we are too.
Today’s Gospel invites us into an intimate conversation between Jesus and his disciples on who the Son of Man is. I want to focus on two main questions today that I believe help lead us into a better understanding of who the Son of Man is. We all know the generic answer of ‘Jesus’ to the question, “Who is the Son of Man?,” but the answer is far more complex when we dive into it. So why don’t we keep searching for deeper meaning behind this question? When we don’t go past the surface level of this answer we may fail to see the full picture of who Jesus is, as well as who we are."
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
This is the first question in today’s Gospel that Jesus poses to his disciples. They respond to him with multiple names of prophets who have been mistaken as the Messiah. This question led me to ponder my own answer to Jesus about what the world says the Son of Man is. The answer I found unfortunately was full of “false gods” instead of Jesus. Now praising false gods may not be outrightly done on purpose by us, but the way we treat things can often be idolatrous. We all, myself included, tend to latch onto things in our life and make them the centerpiece of our lives. This may be work, school, social media, our phones, or even our family. I want to first stop and say that many of these things are inherently good and deserve a vast amount of dedication, but there needs to be balance. Personally, I have put friends on a pedestal for most of my life. I have never thought of them as gods, but I treated them in a way where you would think I had. This entailed anything from allowing their opinions to affect my decisions to being jealous of their virtue and faith. Another vice I have struggled with is social media. Many of us may not outright call it a god, but our mindset towards it can often become idolatrous if we are not careful. This comes in the form of finding our identity, how many likes we get, posting things for the “clout,” or even trying to create an alter-ego of ourselves for others to see. Again, posting and using social media is not wrong, but there are dangers when we choose to engage with it.
The danger of all these false gods comes from the firm grasp they take on your heart, limiting your freedom. I would go as far to say that when we look to anything in our lives for our identity or value outside of God, we are in some way giving “praise” to these false gods. When we allow our family or friends to make our decisions for us out of fear of disappointing them, or we allow social media to affect our mental health based on how many likes we got, we are inevitably setting ourselves up for a troubled mind. We begin to allow these opinions of ourselves from these false gods become our own opinions of ourselves. You don’t need to up and run away to become a hermit, but a level of detachment from these false gods allow us to discover the answer to these questions of identity and value our hearts desire. Truly though, how do we find these answers at the end of the day? I believe this passage actually answers that question as well.
“But who do you say that I am?”
This simple question yields a heroic answer from Peter saying that Jesus is “The Christ, the Son of Man.” At this point you may still be wondering how this question tells us anything about our value or identity, but I promise it does. To get this answer, let us look at Jesus’ response after Peter’s answer.
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Immediately after Peter’s response, Jesus unveils Peter’s true identity to him. Notice that Jesus didn’t reveal this to him right when they first met. Instead, Jesus waited to reveal his entire identity until Peter first knew his. I find this quite interesting and I’ve spent quite some time pondering the timing of this revelation to Peter. The reason Peter could not know or understand his true identity until he first understood Jesus’, is that our identity lies in Christ. We are not fully ourselves without him and we cannot fully come into ourselves until we first find the answer to this question, “Who do you say that I am?” With Christ at the centerpoint of our lives, we finally will have that balance and freedom that we discussed earlier. Then and only then, can Christ fully unveil the curtain and show us who we are.
Reflection Questions for Prayer
What in your life do you hold on a pedestal and in regards as a sort of “false god”?
Sit in silence for a few moments pondering and looking for your answer to the question, “But who do you say that I am?”
I found it helpful to look at an image of Jesus and imagine him asking me the question directly.
Allow time for Jesus to respond to your answer and reveal your identity to you.
Note - this won’t be a verbal response (more than likely), but allow time for yourself to absorb and be aware of the flow of God’s love and grace to you.