Today we celebrate Peter and Paul, two great apostles and heroes of our faith. But that's not how they started out. Peter continually tried to hide from responsibility and yet it was he whom the Lord chose to lead the disciples and the infant Church community. Paul was a devout Jew who persecuted the early Christians. Yet it was he who championed the rights of all people to embrace the Gospel. Through these two very limited human beings, the work of Spirit was enabled and the community of the people of God within the world began to form and take shape.
In the Gospel today, we hear Jesus ask two very pointed questions: "Who do people say I am?" and "Who do YOU say I am?" The disciples' response to the first question reveals that some believed he was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets... all of whom were dead. Maybe that's what the people thought... but maybe that's what the disciples thought as well.
But when personally confronted with the second queston, Peter answers: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." He proclaims Jesus as the Son of the "living God." God is a "living God," who moves with us from place to place and time to time. Ours is not a God who speaks to us through dead prophets. Rather, God is present to us now, at this time of our lives and in the place we currently find ourselves. And Jesus is the concrete sign and reminder to us of our "living God."
Peter's response to Jesus reflected his faith and it would require him to live out that response for the rest of his life.
The question Jesus puts to Peter is one he asks each of us. At various times in our lives our response will differ, depending on the circumstances that confront us. During our broken times we might need Jesus to be our healer. When we need to stand up for our faith against the actions or views of others, we want Jesus to be our strength. When our prayer feels dry and our faith is weak, Jesus must be "living water" in our desert and "living bread" as our nourishment.
Who do you say that I am? The Lord asks the same question and offers the same challenge to us. He sends us on our own journey of faith and gives us the necessary tools to travel our different paths: Love of God and Love of Neighbor.
We don't have to look very far to find our neighbor. We need only to accept His promise and His presence with faith; then he provides the strength for us to walk His way, to live his life, to be faithful to his Gospel. And we must be able to articulate this Gospel with clarity and enthusiasm. At the heart of the Gospel message is the challenge to lose ourselves in concern for others. If we truly love every other person as Jesus has loved us, then we don't look at risk, or color, or public opinion, or all of the other excuses for walking away.
Do you know who I am? Do you really know me? Jesus' question is addressed to us now. And we, His followers answer readily, "You are the Christ. You are the Messiah. You are the Son of the Living God." But there is an implied crucial follow-up question as well: "How well do we know Him?"
Do we know Him well enough to trust His promise to lead us into eternal life with God who is Love?
Do we trust in His promise that we will discover our life's true meaning and purpose in and through our love for one another? Jesus is at work in this community of faith, building us up, healing our wounds, helping us resist the forces sin and death. He comforts us in our frailty and in the shame of the all-too-public sins of some of our members and leaders. But do we really believe that the "gates of the nether world will not prevail" against us?
The world around us is also asking: "Who are you? What are you all about? Why do you do what you do?" Everything we say and do must proclaim very loudly and clearly: "We are faithful followers of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We are His hands, His eyes, His heart, His body. We bring His light and truth to our world. In His name, and by His power, we are trying to remake the face of the earth, to renew our world, to overcome evil and suffering, to restore all things in Christ."
Like Peter and Paul all of us are required to witness to Christ and some may even have to give their lives in his name. If Christianity is to have a worthwhile message to the contemporary world, it must be based on the vision of God that we have received from Jesus himself. It must be based on what He himself saw his mission to be. And it should have as its foundation the proclamation of Peter: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."