Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“BUT WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?” (Mt 16:13)
Pope Francis made the remark: we come to know God “in the daily encounter with the Lord through our victories and through our weaknesses.” Today’s gospel brings to mind an experience earlier this year when someone came to Communion and upon receiving in that moment said, “Why don’t you give up?” So first of all the writer of this article is in need of prayer! But that statement made me think just what do we understand about this Jesus whom we celebrate at Mass and receive in Communion?
John Pilch writes about the historical cultural context of Jesus. He sees Jesus as very human. Americans, he said, are the most individualistic people who ever lived. On the other hand, Mediterranean people are exactly the opposite. They have what is described as a ‘dyadic’ personality. The word means “pair.” Such people are “other oriented to such an extent that they have no sense of their individuality but depend on the opinion of others to help them know who they are.”
In the gospel the disciples tell Jesus what others are saying about his identity. So Jesus can also be growing, discovering his identity and looking to significant others in some way. We see in such humanity someone who experiences life much as we do. When Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, “Jesus recognizes that his words are not simply from human reasoning. Maybe a comparison to the idea of a “sixth sense” would be applicable. Suppose someone purchases certain clothes and one style is simply more appropriate to one’s personality than another and therefore that is what the person wears. Peter affirms to Jesus what He perceives of himself.
Jesus is the ideal of our humanity for which we desire to share but we also meet in our nature the challenge presented to Peter and Judas. Are they so much different? Peter is given the keys to the kingdom of heaven and later will say, “Even if I have to die, I will never deny you.” His denial didn’t come from torture or scourging, it was just from a mere slip of words from a girl. The Bible says that Satan entered into Judas before he went to the Pharisees. Having seen his betrayal for what it was, he threw himself away as irredeemable. But Peter even in the face of his own betrayal came back to Christ. That is why Peter is the rock of the Church on which it is founded: he loved, sinned and held on to the Lord anyway. Peter was inclined to be severe. But he fell into sin so that, remembering his own fault and the Lord’s forgiveness, he also might forgive others out of love for them.
For me an opportunity that is too often overlooked is encountering the Lord in the marginalized. It can take many forms. I have found that when I do reach out to them, they are really the ones who are helping me! Secondly, clergy pray the Liturgy of the Hours several times a day. There I feel I come to know myself in those Psalms of the Bible that are addressed to God. (I also know lay people who pray some of these Hours or the Hours of the Blessed Mother.)
There are different ways people come to know Jesus: successes, weaknesses, family, flowers, homeless people, a homily, a book, good friends, suffering, joy, nature, and yes maybe it is possible to find God in all things. A good prayer would be to see Jesus and desire his presence in all people – saint and sinner.
Lay people may have a wisdom through daily life that draws them close to God and surely is affirmed in the Books of Wisdom. While it is certainly not the norm, at times theological training can draw us into the severity of a Peter rather than to the humanity of Christ who grew in wisdom, age and grace. Peter had it right the first time and Jesus has forever memorialized in the Mass the witness that he gives us. If Kim Jong-un of North Korea can come to know Our Lord it will be through those who pray and give their “Yes, I am ready to give my life for him!”
God Bless You,