I am preparing to preach at my church on Sunday, our text as designated by the lectionary is Matthew 16:13-20, which records for us the interaction between Jesus and his disciples and the proclamation from Peter. Jesus asks “who do men say that I am”? The disciples answer, “some say John the Baptist, others Jeremiah and still others Elijah.” Then Jesus asks, “who do you say that I am”? Peter answers, “you are the Christ the Son of the living God.”
We are impressed with Peter’s answer and there is the sense that he has understood (by revelatory means as Jesus comments) that Jesus is the Christ, which means the annointed One, the Messiah. Peter’s proclamation is true, he is right…Jesus is the Messiah and the one that God had promised would come; that is indeed a profound statement of faith. The challenge comes for Peter and for us who read that proclamation, in assuming that the proclamation indicated an understanding of what that all meant. I believe that the Scriptures indicate the reverse, Peter spoke from faith what it would take a lifetime to understand. That truth is evident in what follows in the narrative…Jesus begins to announce for the first time the result of his identity: death and suffering. Unfortunately that does not equate to Peter’s notion of what he had espoused at the time of his earlier proclamation. This leads Peter to renounce that Jesus could endure such treatment. Jesus then turns to the one, who had heard from God the truth of who this prophet from Nazareth was, and tells him “get behind me Satan for you are not on the side of God but on the side of men.”
Our words are indeed important, and our statements of faith set us on our path. But I believe that, as in this instance, they are uninformed and are but the entry into a life that hopes in the reality of what we thought we understood. It will take Peter a lifetime of living and discovering to understand what those words meant, what the implications of those words are, what it would cost him to live based upon those words. Our notions of what it means to be a disciple and to live the life that such statements call us to must be tried and tested in living, a life of discovery and of learning.
It is easy for us at this juncture of history and church history to believe that that such truths have been wrestled downed and understood and that the belief we have inherited (and the expressions of belief) are ones which actually reflect the truth of Peter’s statements (and our own), but in reality, we faithfully proclaim and them must hopefully discover all that God will teach us about the reality of those words in living.
Unfortunately, we often take those words as the ending point of faith and fill in the blanks about what such a life will look like in the world where our living takes place. We lose the discovery and we form statements that predispose us to perspectives that, remarkably, fit with the religious culture from whence we have come. Peters’ words on that day reflected a life that stood in contrast to political and religious perspectives normative in that day: views of country, of patriotism, of power, of righteousness and redemption.
What views are we baptizing in our notions about God, faith and discipleship, which run with our culture (either religious or secular) and not with faith lived out in hope?