Peterís faith and ours
(Readings: Isaiah 22:19-23; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20)
Introduction to Mass
The gospel passage this Sunday touches on what is distinctive about the Christian faith. Peter recognises Jesus and Jesusí ministry as a new, unique, unsurpassable revelation of God. On the basis of this awareness of Christís identity he becomes the rock on which the whole community of Christian faith is to be built.
To prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries we acknowledge our own doubts and weaknesses of faith and ask God for his pardon and strength.
It comes over pretty clearly from the picture that Saint Matthew gives of Peter that Jesus chose him as the leader of the disciples not because of any great leadership skills that he showed or because he was a particularly charismatic personality, but because he had faith: the insight to discern Jesus' identity as the Saviour.
Of course Peterís insight into Jesusí identity didnít come from nowhere. He'd had plenty of time to get to know Jesus and to witness the way he went about his mission.
Peter had gradually come to the realisation that what Jesus had to say about human life and relationships was true; that everything he said about God's character and the way he has an impact on our lives was true.
Peter's faith didn't spring up overnight. It had grown since his first meeting with Jesus. And that's the way God's influence usually works on people - changing us slowly, deepening our faith and making us more like him.
In Jesus' day a religious attitude to life was normal, and it was easier to talk about God than it is for us now, in our society. Everyone - whether they were Jewish or pagan - had an awareness of what we might call the sacred, or the divine - the power - or powers - above and beyond our ordinary existence.
Now, we're living at a time when for the majority of people it's more natural not to believe in God, or at any rate to be indifferent to religious questions, or to find them boring - and to assume that our life on earth, our day to day experience up until we die - is the only life we have.
One of the signs of this narrower, secularised outlook is the fact that more and more we're getting a sort of reaction to it, in the shape of what I would say are various counterfeit religious beliefs, and a lot of irrational and often downright magical beliefs, which, for many religious minded people, seem to have taken the place of classical Christian faith.
I've been surprised at how often I've had conversations with people who don't find the Christian religion attractive or appealing, but they do flit around with ideas of astrology, witchcraft, psychic and paranormal phenomena, not to mention the growing industry in various types of faith-healing and other aspects of Eastern religion. And I suppose that the more secular our culture, or our society becomes, the more you'll get people cobbling together a sort of personal religion out of whatever mystical or "spiritual" notions take their fancy.
The kind of relationship with God that Jesus had - and the kind of faith he sparked off in Peter and the disciples - was quite different from the sort of superficial dabbling in spiritual matters which is widespread today. For Christ, religious faith wasn't a matter of believing any old thing as long as it made people feel good.
For Jesus, faith meant the way that a person is in contact with God and indeed rooted in God. It meant the way we relate to the world around us based on that ďbeing rootedĒ in God.
For Christ, faith was like a pair of glasses that people put on that makes them see the world in a certain way - the way that God sees it - which we know most of all from the picture we get of God in the Bible.
And of course, in Jesus' own experience, real faith in God was something that becomes the basic driving force in a person's life, the thing which determines all their basic motives and goals.
So that, after knowing Jesus for a few years, this is what Peter learned to do. He started to take on, in his life, the same vision and the same driving force that Jesus had in his. He started to share the same way of being rooted in God, and the same way of relating to the world around him.
As I was saying at the start, Jesus didn't choose Peter as the leader of the disciples because he had any of the skills or abilities that people look for today. He chose him because - despite all his failings, which the gospels don't try to cover up - Peter's faith was deep and sincere. In spite of his various weaknesses, he became rooted in God as a result of his encounter with Christ, in a way that he wasnít before he met Christ.
What this gospel passage shows is that if somebody like Peter can become a great disciple and have a great commitment to God's Kingdom, so can anyone, and so can we.
Perhaps at a time when people seem to find it so difficult to decide what they believe in and what they hope for - when they're always postponing any final decision about fundamental values and what they want as the driving force in their lives - the example of Peter's faith is something that hopefully we, as believers, can identify with and imitate in our own efforts to recognise Christ for who he is and to become rooted in the God who sent him to us.