The gospel for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time narrates what we call “Peter’s Confession.” Jesus’s question, ‘”Who do people say that I am,” turns into “Who do you say that I am,” addressed to his disciples. Peter speaks on behalf of the group, “confessing” that Jesus is the Anointed One, Son of the living God. The text then has Jesus giving Peter the keys to the Kingdom. It is difficult to preach on this text because the story is pierced in two parts, what we read now and what we will read next Sunday. There, in stark contrast, we will read about Jesus telling Peter: “Get behind me, Satan, because you are an obstacle to me.”
For this reason, more than being drawn to discuss Peter’s confession, I direct my attention to what we started discussing last week. What I see in this gospel is a turning point. In the same way that Jesus experiences his own turning point upon meeting the Canaanite woman, he now forces a turning point on his disciples. He takes them to the region of Caesarea Philippi, a Roman city with a temple dedicated to the Greek god Pan; a place of diversity; also the source of the mythical Jordan River, and, interestingly enough, the furthest you can be from the Temple while still in Israel. There he asks them the crucial question about who he is for them.
It is not difficult to apply this to our lives. We not only are invited to reflect about the turning points of our past, but also to reflect about those waiting for us in the future. Sometimes, these turning points have to be provoked, willfully brought about, lest we stall in our relationships and in everything we do. Perhaps we could provoke a great turning point by asking those around us who are we for them.
But we also are in need of a spiritual turning point, so we should ask ourselves the question Jesus has asked from his disciples: Who is Jesus for me? Perhaps our relationship with Jesus has stalled also, or it simply does not exist to begin with. Perhaps it exists but we have never thought about it. Maybe there is something there that just needs a spark, and perhaps the spark in precisely answering the question, “Who is Jesus for me?” The answer we give is crucial, one that will shape the way we live out faith and our life.
No one can answer this question for us. When the disciples tell Jesus that people saw him as another John the Baptist, or another Jeremiah, or just another of the prophets, people were just trying to encapsulate Jesus in pre-established categories. They were not answering for themselves, but the way others wanted them to answer. Peter at least is able to say how he had experienced Jesus, even if we will see that his experience of Jesus is not without difficulties. Jesus establishes a unique relationship with each and every one of us, and this gospel is an invitation to reflect about it.