You are the Christ, the Son of the living God
Water is life. Every culture affirms. It is a necessity of life, highly appreciated particularly by men living in an arid country, like the Jews, or as they experienced in the desert on their weary way to the Promised Land. Water easily becomes the symbol of God, who is at the same time both a firm, reliable rock and life-giving water. Faith in this rock is demanded.
Jesus faces his apostles with the question “Who am I?” Peter, in the name of all, professes that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. After this “confession,” the Lord gives Peter his mission as head of the apostolic college and of the Church. Now that they know who he is, he can tell them also of his passion, death and resurrection. Yet, this seems too much at that time: Peter protests. His faith is not strong enough. He thinks still in human terms. We profess to know who Jesus is. But do we also not think too often in merely human ways?
1 Reading: Numbers 20:1-13
The whole congregation of the children of Israel arrived in the desert of Zin in the first month, and the people settled at Kadesh. It was here that Miriam died, and here that she was buried. As the community had no water, they held a council against Moses and Aaron. The people contended with Moses, exclaiming, “Would that we too had perished with our kinsmen in the LORD’s presence! Why have you brought the LORD’s assembly into this desert where we and our livestock are dying? Why did you lead us out of Egypt, only to bring us to this wretched place which has neither grain nor figs nor vines nor pomegranates? Here there is not even water to drink!” But Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the meeting tent, where they fell prostrate. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to them, and the LORD said to Moses, “Take your staff and assemble the community, you and your brother Aaron, and in their presence order the rock to yield its waters. From the rock you shall bring forth water for the congregation and their livestock to drink.” So Moses took his staff from its place before the LORD, as he was ordered. He and Aaron assembled the community in front of the rock, where he said to them, “Listen to me, you rebels! Are we to bring water for you out of this rock?” Then, raising his hand, Moses struck the rock twice with his staff, and water gushed out in abundance for the people and their livestock to drink. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you were not faithful to me in showing forth my sanctity before the children of Israel, you shall not lead this community into the land I will give them.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the children of Israel contended against the LORD, and where the LORD revealed his sanctity among them.
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
R. (8) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him. R.
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides. R.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tested me;
they tested me though they had seen my works.” R.
Alleluia: Matthew 16:18
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: Matthew 16:13-23
Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, 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. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
It was at Meribah that the Israelites’ lament about lack of sustenance was met by the Lord with water from the rock. But in giving themselves a place of prominence in the event and not emphasizing God’s providence, Moses and Aaron will not be permitted entrance into the land of promise.
In Peter’s profession of faith in Jesus at Caesarea Philippi is the fullest depiction of this in the three Synoptic Gospels. The other two accounts may represent an earlier tradition, while Matthew presents a full post-Easter expression of faith in the full divinity of Jesus. He is recognized not only as the Christ-Messiah or Promised One of Israel, but as the true Son of the living God. It is upon the believing Peter that primacy among the apostles is conferred, including the power to retain or absolve sin, and the keys admitting entrance to the kingdom. As the narrative continues, however, Jesus described his different type of messiahship in terms of suffering and death, and Peter’s attempt to discount such an assertion meets with a sharp rebuff from his Master.
After the apostles had reached a point of confessing Jesus to be the Messiah, the king of promise for God’s people, it was not easy for them to hear his prediction of suffering and death. But such is the great Christian paradox. We are assured a life in God and the total forgiveness of sins. But it has come at a dear price, the saving death of God’s Son. And it reminds us that our life, too, is a path to God through hardship and pain. The task in life is to bring the two together. “Per aspera ad astra” – through trials to the stars.
You are the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is our profession of faith too, and it changes all of our life. To Christ we belong, we are his disciples. May we be good disciples, with the blessing of almighty God, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!