By Sr. Elizabeth Ann, SSJD.
Readings: Acts 4:8-13; Psalm 23; Matthew 16:13-19
A question and three words: confession, common, and companion.
Jesus asked the disciples, “What is the scuttlebutt?” or, “Who do people say that the Chosen One is?” The disciples answer that some people are saying John the Baptist, and others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. People are comparing Jesus to some of the greatest prophets that they knew. We often compare new people we meet with people we already know. We compare things, including people, to make sense of our world. Its like when children learn the name of an object and then point it out repeatedly. When I’ve visited other Religious orders, I’ve sometimes seen a Sister in another community and will think that they are just like a sister in our community. It happens in our families too. People meet us and will say to us that we are so like our mother, our father, or a sibling. People share common characteristics which makes it natural for us to compare one to another. People saw something in Jesus that made them think that he was like John the Baptist or one of the prophets. Today people might say that Jesus is like Martin Luther King Jr., or Mahatma Gandhi, or Dorothy Day. But did the people really know Jesus?
Jesus wanted to hear what his disciples, people who knew him, thought. So Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” This question gets to the heart of the matter. Jesus is asking the disciples, his closest companions, to name to their relationship with Jesus. They are not bystanders. They have a deeper intimacy with Christ.
In response to Jesus question, Simon Peter spoke up and said, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” This is Peter’s confession. There are several meanings of the word confession. It can be the admission of guilt in a crime or an admission that one has done something that one is ashamed or embarrassed about like some of the politicians who travelled recently despite lockdowns who then confessed when they had been found out. Confession can be sacramental as one seeks absolution from one’s sins either privately with a priest or in the context of communal worship such as we do nightly at Compline or during the service of Holy Eucharist. A confession can also be a statement of our faith such as in a creed – the Apostle’s creed or Nicene creed for example. In this instance, Peter confesses his faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one of God. Jesus blessed Simon son of Jonah for his answer and went on to say: “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Abba God in heaven.” The name Simon means listen or hearing. Simon Peter had listened with the ear of his heart. He came to know Jesus through the years spent as a disciple and following him in his ministry. Jesus renamed him Peter, which as you will recall, means rock, and it is on that rock that Jesus says he will build his church.
You know I’m getting to like Peter. Ever since I read that passage from Herbie O’ Driscoll’s homily for the feast of John the Apostle, December 27th. O’Driscoll noted that John seems to have recalled some incidents that Peter, perhaps in embarrassment, had suppressed in his memory. We know what comes after this gospel passage in Matthew. Jesus blessed Peter in this passage and then stoutly rebuked him in the passage following when he turned to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me;” (Matthew 16: 23). From the high to the low, this is the rock of the church of Christ, and that gives me hope for my walk in the Jesus way especially when I move from doing something well to crashing and falling again.
In the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and John are filled with the Holy Spirit and enabled to speak boldly. The elders and rulers said, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. “ Peter and John were certainly common ordinary people as we all are but because of they had spent time with Jesus and had come to know him intimately, they could boldly proclaim their faith. They may not have been educated in the classical sense that the rulers and elders thought, that is, they were not part of any formally recognized school. But they had lived experience as companions and disciples of Jesus and were opened to the Holy Spirit which gave them what they needed to speak boldly of their faith. We read in 1 Corinthians 1:26 -28, “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.” God chose the commonplace and ordinary to bring about the reign of God.
The disciples lived as companions of Jesus throughout his ministry, ample time to get to know Jesus intimately in their daily interactions. The word companion has its origins in the Latin com, meaning together or with, and panis meaning bread. Old French derived compaignon meaning one who breaks bread with another from the Latin. From this we get the English word, companion. We break bread with each other. The disciples lived with Jesus and broken bread with him, listened to his teachings, witnessed the healings, and have begun to be sent out on missions themselves to proclaim the reign of God.
Like Peter and John, we are common ordinary women, ordinary people, living common place lives. We live as companions of Jesus as we carry out spiritual practices to know Christ intimately and live Spirit filled lives. As companions of Jesus, we seek to continue in the apostles teaching and companionship, in the breaking of bread and in prayer. We persevere in resisting evil and, whenever we fall into sin and really mess things up like Peter did, we confess, and return to God. We seek to serve Christ in all persons and love our neighbour as ourselves. We strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human person. We strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the earth. In keeping all these promises, we have the lived experience to confess by word and example the good news of God in Christ Jesus as Messiah, son of the living God.
I want people to recognize in me, an ordinary common person, a companion of Jesus who lives a Spirit filled life. I want them to recognize that I am one who is able to boldly confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Chosen One of the living God. Confess, common and companion. Three words to guide our way. Who do you say that Jesus is? Amen.
Herbert O’Driscoll, For All the Saints: Homilies for Saints’ & Holy Days 1995, Cowley Publishers (sermon for St. John the Apostle, December 27, pages 16-20)
Book of Alternative Services, Baptismal Promises, page 159