21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – 27 August 2023

“Who am I?” – Identity and Mission of Jesus and Peter

During my seminary days, we staged a musical entitled “Prodigal Son”. While the run-away younger son is starving for food in a pigsty, the eternal quest “Who am I?” haunts him more than ever. He sings: “There seems to be several people, locked up inside of me; fighting a constant battle for my identity. Sometimes, they keep me prisoner, sometimes they set me free, is one of them my true self? Is one of them really me? Who am I?”

How did ‘others’ see Jesus? For some, He was just the revival of a dead past prophetic revival – like a John the Baptist, an Elijah a Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

In a very decisive conversation at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus throws this same eternal quest to his disciples about His Identity: “But, who do you say that I am?” (Mt 16:15). Without a doubt but without complete comprehension too, Peter confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus, then declares a ‘blessedness’ on Peter and shifts the focus from Himself to Peter. Peter who recognised the true ‘identity and mission’ of Jesus is now himself given a new identity and mission from Jesus. Simon is called by a new name – Cephas in Aramaic, or Petros on Greek taken from the root word for ‘rock’. With a new name, comes a new commission. Simon the fisherman is officially commissioned by Jesus with divine authority, “You are Peter and on this ‘rock’ I will build My church.” Like Eliakim in the first reading, Peter is given the ‘Keys’ of the Kingdom of Heaven with authority ‘to bind’ and ‘to loose’.

Peter’s vocation was not always a story of fidelity. Peter’s journey in following Jesus was coupled with ‘sincere confession’ and ‘denials’. He stood firm in his ‘faith’ and ‘faltered’ even to sinking point. The ‘rock’ at times had crumbled into bits of sand. Following Jesus was a ‘see-saw’ rhythm between getting it right and getting it wrong. But, Jesus never gave up on Peter. After the Resurrection, on the same shores of Galilee, Jesus will challenge Peter to the quality of his love for Jesus. Peter finally gets it right.  There is never a doubt after Peter responded to the all-important question, “Peter, do you love me?” True love heals all pain, wipes away all shame and strengthens faltering faith.

As we reflect on the Gospel of today, we are called today to accept and obey the authority of Pope Francis our Petrine figure.  

Fr Glenford Lowe

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