The Gospel reading for Sunday, August 24, (Matthew 16:13-20) was about Peter’s profession of faith. After Jesus had asked the Apostles what people were saying about him and had received various responses, he put the question directly to them: “ ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.’ “
What did Jesus mean when he said, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you…”? I assume that the Apostles had discussed the identity of Jesus, as so many were doing. They may have all speculated and even agreed that he is the Messiah foretold by the prophets, that is, understood as an extraordinary man and prophet. They had seen the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and numerous other healings. They had heard him say about himself, “…the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath.” They had witnessed the healing of the paralytic and heard Jesus say that this healing was a sign of his divine power: ”But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” This was unheard of, something the prophets had never said, but later Jesus would confer the power of absolution on his priests, so it could be argued that Jesus was merely saying that he had a delegated power. They had witnessed the feeding of the 5,000. But now something new happens. The Father takes Peter beyond what he had already seen and heard and thought about with his flesh and blood powers and reveals to Peter that Jesus is “The Son of the living God.” To answer the question at the start of this paragraph, I think Jesus told Peter that his profession was not just the result of his observations and thinking but was a special gift—the gift of faith—to believe that Jesus is more than a prophet and fully shares the divine nature of God the Father.
The Gospel for Sunday, August 31st is about Peter’s profession of reason. It continues with the text of Matthew 16: 21-27, and provides a stark comparison. Jesus taught the Apostles about his coming suffering and death, and here Peter truly used his flesh and blood reasoning powers. We can imagine him thinking, “How can Jesus suffer and be put to death? Certainly that seems incompatible with his being ‘the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’ Certainly the Son of the Living God has the power to stop his enemies.” So Jesus rebuked Peter: “Get behind me Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
I suggest there is a practical lesson in the suffering episode. The problem of suffering is something that all of us encounter. It may be our own personal sufferings, or it may be the sufferings of others. The problem of suffering is perplexing. We may even criticize our own perplexity. That is, I know that God brings good out of evil, so why am I so concerned about a particular suffering? For example, God knows the needs of the displaced persons and refugees in the Middle East and elsewhere, so why are we concerned and praying for their relief? To give a partial answer, there may be more people of contrary faiths praying for the refugees in Iraq than ever before. Such prayer unites us, and that’s a good thing. Ultimately, the only answer is the Cross. However, when we encounter perplexity about suffering, we can take at least some comfort in the fact that the Prince of the Apostles was also perplexed. St. Peter, pray for us when we are perplexed by suffering.
John F. Kippley, September 6, 2014. See also Sheila’s weekly blog at www.nfpandmore.org .