AUGUST 9, 2007 HOMILY: MATTHEW 16:13-23

 

AWHO DO PEOPLE SAY THE SON OF MAN IS?@ SIMON PETER ANSWERED: AYOU ARE THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD.@ For St Matthew, and in the view of the early Church as a whole, this exchange between our Lord and the apostle he made the foundation of his Church, was of fundamental significance. It remains no less basic and meaningful for us today, and will always prove a major revelation for those whom God elects as his chosen ones.

 

Among other features, the issue of the true identity of Jesus gives heightened standing to this passage. This point is made all the more striking in that his real identity is set over against false interpretations of his intimate character as a human being. As honorable as the mistaken views of who he truly is, they are false because inadequate to express the fullness of the Lord=s person. St. Peter=s response, however, is right on the mark; indeed, it contains an assertion that transcends the sense Peter was aware of at the time. In referring to Jesus as the Son of the Living God, Peter was designating him as the Messiah, promised by the prophets from ancient times. Later, after the resurrection, he and other members of the Church, came to realize that as Son Jesus was not only designated as the Savior Messiah but as equal to the Father, and one with him. St. John, some years later than Matthew makes this identification explicit: AIn the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.@

 

Only after Peter displayed explicitly the recognition of Jesus= true identity, as far as he could be expected to manage at the time, did our Lord promise to give him a fuller commission as the chief authority of the Church he was to found. Interestingly, he does not here actually bestow that authority on him as yet, but states he will do so in the future. At the last supper he refers to this intent: Aafter your are confirmed@, that is, having risen after your failure to stand the test of the passion, Ayou in your turn must strengthen your brothers.@ (Luke 22:32) Ever since the actual conferral of this authority on Peter and the other apostles following the resurrection, the Church has emphasized as fundamental to membership correct opinion (that is the meaning of the Greek word Orthodoxy) as to the identity of Jesus as the Son of God in the fullest sense of that word. Yet all along the primitive Church acknowledged that since a son is of the same nature as his father, our Lord is truly divine. This was the case long before an adequate formula could be agreed upon that adequately stated this belief while preserving faith in God as one. It was not long after the resurrection that this belief in his divinity found explicit enunciation while leaving the implications to be elaborated by later generations, as far as they are capable of explanation. St. John states belief in the divinity clearly at the beginning of his first Epistle as well as in the opening lines of his Gospel:@Something which has existed from the beginning, that we have heard and have seen with our own eyes ... the Word who is life , this is our subject. That life was made visible: we saw it and are giving our testimony. telling you of the eternal life which was with the Father ...@

Only through encountering Jesus, the divine Word made flesh and now glorified in the glory that is properly God himself, can we come to know our own identity as human persons with a divine destiny. That we are made to the image of God we are told already in he opening chapter of the Bible (Genesis 1:26). That truth is refined and given more precise explanation by St. Paul. He reveals to us that Christ Ais the image of the unseen God and the first born of all creation, for in him were created all things...@. We are the image, then of the image who is Christ, in so far as we are in him, one with him as his members, Areconciled through him and for him@ (Col. 1:5 ff) with God the Father. May the grace of the Eucharist we offer this evening so strengthen us in love and gratitude that we carry into our daily life this profound awareness of our true identity as children of God who live in keeping with our true identity as members of his beloved Son.      

 

                    

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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