“A dialogue between friends: “You are the Christ”, “You are Peter””: Archbishop Francesco Follo proposes this reading of the biblical pages for Sunday August 27, 2017, XXI Sunday of Ordinary Time, Roman rite (Is 22: 19-23; Ps 138; Rm 11.33-36; Mt 16: 13-20): “With the wish to understand that following the Christ means identifying ourselves with Him through the mind and the heart”.
“Even today we are called to let God speak to our hearts as He has spoken to those of the apostles”, he says.
“The peculiar mission of the Pope, Bishop of Rome and successor to Peter, is to serve the inner unity that comes from the peace of God, and the unity of those who in Jesus Christ have become brothers and sisters”, he adds.
As Patristic reading, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See at UNESCO (Paris, France), proposes the “Golden Chain” on Matthew 16, 20 – 21.
A dialogue between friends: “You are the Christ”, “You are Peter”
1) You are the Christ.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks two questions to the Apostles. The first one is: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”(Mt 16, 13). They replied that for some He was John the Baptist, for other Elias, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. The second is “But who do you say that I am?”(Mt 16, 15).
On behalf of the disciples, Peter professes the faith that is the one of the Church of all times: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). In fact, from that day the Church continues to repeat this solemn profession of faith. Even today we are called to let God speak to our hearts as He has spoken to those of the apostles. If we listen to the evangelical words with perfect faith and perfect love, we will understand the true meaning of these words: “Jesus, the Christ, the Word, and the Son of Man and of God” and will proclaim with profound conviction “Jesus, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Id.). We do it with the awareness that Christ is the true “treasure” for which it is worth sacrificing everything, as it was remembered in the liturgy of the XVII Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 30, 2017.
He is the friend who does not abandon us because he is the Emmanuel, God always with us, who knows the most intimate expectations of our heart. Jesus is the “Son of the Living God,” the promised Messiah, came on earth to offer salvation to humanity and to satisfy the thirst for life and love present in the heart of every human being. This thirst is satisfied by the Divine Mercy that is always ready to give herself to those who convert and ask the Church for.
It should be noted, therefore, that Christ does not address these two questions to the disciples in order to know one or more opinions about Himself. He does not need to know what men think of Him. With this double question Jesus asks for an act of faith in Him that has as consequence following him. “Jesus did not say ‘Know me!’ He said ‘Follow me!’ We must follow Jesus with our virtues despite our sins. The important thing is to always follow Jesus. It is not a study of things that is necessary, but a life of disciple. It takes a daily encounter with the Lord with our victories and weaknesses “(Pope Francis).
Of course, the question of Christ does not arise from a crisis of identity, but offers itself as the way to bring the disciples into His mystery of truth and love. The question of the Messiah is a vocation to follow him. This sequel is not based on an adhesion to a theory, but on the solidity of a presence, which is as firm as stone.
Christ is the Living Stone, and Peter is chosen as his stone. The two do not exclude each other. Christ, the angular stone, calls Peter to a progressive assimilation, to become more and more disciple and to be the Apostolic Stone because, despite his fragility and his sin, he loves his Lord more than all the others and must confirm them in the fruitful faith that is love.
That is why the Pope is the one who chairs charity and confirms our faith with the ministry of truth and mercy, and who uses the keys of the Kingdom to reconcile the people with God and one another. The keys handed over to Peter are the keys to grace, mercy, forgiveness, hope and joy.
Let us make ours the answer of Peter, who did not answer to Christ’s questions with one theory but with a profession of faith. The problem is not to question God, but to let us be questioned by Him. He is and remains a mystery. Answering him instead constitutes the adventure of being men: the adventure of following Him, which is Way, Truth and Life.
Faith is welcoming Him, following Him, and the communion of love with Him. It is our redemption and the one of the world.
2) You are Peter.
At Peter’s confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16, 16), Jesus replies “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. “(Mt 16:18).
The profession of faith of Peter, the humble fisherman of Galilee, is the voice of his companions and today indicates to us the divine presence and the place of salvation for every man and woman of the earth. On this “stone” of faith is built the new human community, reconciled and married to God.
The Church is built by the Lord. “On this stone I will build my Church.” The Church is pure gift of God. Humble historical reality, it welcomes in itself all the limits and errors of the wounded and sinful humanity.
On the faith of Peter Christ founds his Church with the power to bind and to dissolve, to forgive and to sanctify, and with the mission of evangelizing and to announce the good news to the world. The Church is established on the communion with Peter and in obedience to Peter. It is consoling and comforting to hear today the word of the Lord that seals this design of God: “The powers of hell will not prevail over it.” It gives strength to be able to walk in today’s world without presumption, but with the certainty that the Spirit of God leads the Church.
The word Church, in Greek ekklésia, means “convocation”, “assembly” and indicates the people who come together called by the Word of God, and seek to live the message of the Kingdom brought by Christ. The mission of the Church is to implement God’s great plan: to bring all humanity into one family in Christ.
The mission of Peter and of his successors is to serve the unity of the only Church of God formed by all peoples around the world. Its indispensable ministry is to make sure that it never identifies itself with one nation, or with only one culture, but that it is the Church of all people, to make present among men, marked by innumerable divisions and contrasts, the peace of God and the renewing power of his love.
The peculiar mission of the Pope, Bishop of Rome and successor to Peter, is to serve the inner unity that comes from the peace of God, and the unity of those who in Jesus Christ have become brothers and sisters.
United with the Holy Father, we are all called to be missionaries of Christ and witnesses of His love. The key that has been given to us is that of the cross, which implies the gift of oneself. In communion with the Pope, we are called to offer our lives, saved and filled with the love of God, a stone on which every human person can lay down his or her sorrows, uncertainties and doubts. “Blessed” are we, chosen to proclaim the Gospel: for this reason and in all circumstances, the infinite power of the love of God shining in the glory of his Resurrection will keep us close to his Cross, key to the kingdom of God.
Christ has given to Peter the “keys” of the Kingdom, calling him to be crucified with him, to bring with him on his shoulders the light and gentle yoke, to learn the humility and mildness with which to “free” men from the slavery of the world, the flesh and evil, and to “bind them” to Him, the Christ, in an alliance that will never end.
The consecrated virgins are special witnesses of it, because, “bonding” themselves totally and only to Christ, they are united to Him on the cross. Virginity is the crucifixion of self to be donated to God, and nailed to his love by embracing Christ in the Cross. Virginity cannot be reduced to a renounce, it is not a limitation, but an enhancement of love as a gift that consecrates a person in Love and transforms the lover into the Beloved. The love lived virginally is a crucified love not because it is a mortified love, but because it is a “sacrificed” love, that is, made sacred by the total gift of oneself to God.
Patristic reading: Golden Chain on Matthew 16, 20 – 21
Origen: Seeing Peter had confessed Him to be Christ the Son of the living God, because He would not have them preach this in the meantime, He adds, Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man, that he was Jesus the Christ.
Jerome: When then above He sends His disciples to preach, and commands them to proclaim (p. 589) His advent, this seems contrary to His command here, that they should not say that He is Jesus the Christ. To me it seems that it is one thing to preach Christ, and another to preach Jesus the Christ. Christ is a common title of dignity, Jesus the proper name of the Saviour.
Origen: Or they then spake of Him in lowly words, as only a great and wonderful man, but as yet proclaimed Him not as the Christ. Yet if any will have it that He was even at the first proclaimed to be Christ, be may say that now He chose that first short announcement of His name to be left in silence and not repeated, that little which they had heard concerning Christ might be digested into their minds. Or the difficulty may be solved thus: that the fairer relation concerning their preaching Christ does not belong to the time before His Resurrection, but to the time that should be after the Resurrection; and that the command now given is meant for the time present; for it were of no use to preach Him, and to be silent conceiving His cross.
Moreover, He commanded them that they should tell no man that He was the Christ, and prepared them that they should afterwards say that He was Christ who was crucified, and who rose again from the dead.
Jerome: But that none should suppose that this is only any explanation, and not an evangelic interpretation, what follows explains the reasons of His forbidding them to preach Him at that time. Then began Jesus to shew unto his disciples that he must needs go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and Scribes, and Chief Priests, and be put to death, and rise again the third day.
The meaning is: Then preach Me when I shall have suffered these things, for it will be of no avail that Christ be preached publicly, and His Majesty spread abroad among the people, when after a little time they shall see Him scourged and crucified.
Chrys.: For what having once had root has afterwards been torn up, if it is again planted, is with difficulty retained among the multitude; but what having been once rooted has continued ever after unmoved, is easily brought on to a further growth. He therefore dwells on these sorrowful things, and repeats His discourse upon them, that He may open the minds of His disciples.
Origen: And observe that it is not said, He began to say, or to teach (p. 590) but to shew for as things are said to be shewn to the sense, so the things which Christ spake are said to be shewn by Him. Nor indeed do I think, that to those who saw Him suffering many things in the flesh, were those things which they saw so shewn as this representation in words shewed to the disciples the mystery of the passion and resurrection of Christ. At that time, indeed, He only began to shew them, and afterwards when they were more able to receive it, He shewed them more fully; for all that Jesus began to do, that He accomplished.
He must needs go to Jerusalem, to be put to death indeed in the Jerusalem which is below, but to rise again and reign in the heavenly Jerusalem. But when Christ rose again, and others were risen with Him, they no longer sought the Jerusalem which is beneath, or the house of prayer in it, but that which is above. He suffers many things from the elders of the earthly Jerusalem, that He may be glorified by those heavenly elders who receive His mercies. He rose again from the dead on the third day, that He may deliver from the evil one, and purchase for such as are so delivered this gift, that they be baptized in spirit, soul, and body, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who are three days perpetually present to those that through them have been made children of light.