There is a story about a poor guy who died. Much to his surprise he was sentenced not to Heaven, but to Satan’s domain. Before he was admitted, however, he was interviewed by Satan himself. “It’s pretty bad down here, isn’t it?” asked the man. “Not at all!” said Satan. “You’re surrounded by people who know how to enjoy! Each day we have a theme. Monday, for example, is Party Day! We party around the clock. Tuesday is Alcohol Day! An open bar, take all you want! Wednesday is Tobacco Day! The finest Havana cigars, all the best cigarette blends.” The guy begins to brighten up. He says, “I’m sold. Let me in!” They let him in the gate and he promptly falls into a fiery pit where he is prodded by a nasty looking thing with a pitchfork. “Hey,” he cried, “what happened to those Theme Days?” “Today is Thursday,” Satan giggles with glee. “Thursdays, we tell lies!”
Matthew 16: 13-20 shows us how Peter confesses Jesus as his Lord and Savior and how Jesus, in turn, approves Peter’s words and gives him teaching and ruling authority in his Church. Thus, Jesus establishes a “Magisterium” in his Church to serve the spiritual and physical needs of the Church members. The passage is pivotal in the Gospels. Everything that precedes this passage is preparing us for it; everything that follows it is an explanation.
Jesus asks his closest followers a fundamental question: “Who do you say I am?” Peter speaks for the apostles: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” They acknowledge that Jesus is the promised Messiah; he is the very Son of God.
This is a true moment of faith, proclaimed for the ages. Jesus makes it very clear that they are responding with the gift given to them by his heavenly Father, not just to the mere sum of their own experiences of Jesus. This becomes clearer as the Gospel progresses, and we see that they have much more to learn about how Jesus will be the Messiah-Savior.
The promise: At this point in the Gospel narrative, they have no idea that Jesus will suffer, die on a cross, and rise on the third day. Despite their lack of full understanding, Jesus uses this moment of faith to set the foundation of the Church on the “rock” of Peter’s confession of faith. He entrusts the keys of the kingdom to Peter: the symbol of authority in the community of believers. The Church will have power to continue when Jesus returns to his Father.
For the moment, Jesus orders his disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah because they have much more to learn before they can accurately communicate the full truth of faith in Jesus as Messiah. Once they have experienced Jesus’ death and resurrection and have received the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will tell them to go out to all the nations and proclaim the Good News of salvation.
Need to accept Jesus as our Lord and personal Savior: St. Paul sums up the wonder of God’s plan of salvation, meant for all people. His words are a reminder that we are part of the continuing plan as members of the community founded on the authority of Peter. As we continue to grow in our knowledge and experience of the good news, we can well echo Paul’s words: “O, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!”
As we speak his words, let us be grateful for the gift of faith and renew our commitment to live by what we have come to believe – so that all we are and do is seen as coming from God, done through his grace, and leading us to give God glory today and every day!