It is important to read today’s Gospel and next week’s Gospel as two parts of a single story. These readings are a turning point in Matthew’s Gospel. This week we hear Jesus name Simon Peter as the rock upon which he will build his Church. Next week we will hear Jesus call this same Simon Peter “Satan” when he reacts negatively to Jesus’ prediction about his passion and death.
When the first disciples meet Jesus, the question on their minds was: is he the Messiah? the one we have been looking for? They were really asking, “Is there anything to hope for?” And Jesus showed them there was something to hope for. He showed them in miracle after miracle that he was the Messiah. And in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks a pointed question. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks. Opinions abound, in their day and in ours. From this story, we can be sure that simply saying what we’ve heard other people say isn’t enough for Jesus. Jesus wants to know what we think; Jesus wants to know who we think he is.
Jesus has a real relationship with his disciples and like all good relationships, it’s mutual. There’s a back and forth, a sharing of life. Jesus isn’t polling the whole Judean countryside. He wants to know who his disciples think he is. Peter blurts out, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” How does he know this? How do you know this?
Jesus says it’s an awareness, a knowledge that comes directly from God. And there’s power in knowing Jesus is the Messiah. It’s the power to withstand the gates of Hell, to hold the keys to the kingdom, to bind on earth and loose in heaven. In this one small moment of spiritual awakening, Peter gets all the tools he needs for his life’s work.
So why did he tell his disciples to keep it a secret?
Well, we do know a couple things about how Jesus operated, especially before he went to Jerusalem. He told people to keep quiet his work and identity a number of times. We also know Jesus was not real big on public displays of faith, if a person’s heart was not right. Jesus knows that his new and fledgling flock needs to grow stronger before he can depart.
The Secret of Jesus’ Messiahship is to be guarded, kept, and only told the few who can hear it. Jesus’ parables were meant to confuse and confound, to cloud the mind of the proud and disinterested and to give life to those who were seeking hope and life.
In our time, the Messianic Secret has changed. Once it meant not announcing Jesus as the promised one until his death and resurrection revealed him completely. Now it means not announcing Jesus without the cross and the empty tomb, not announcing him unless we are ready to die and rise together with him.
There are plenty of versions of Jesus abroad in the world today. Some of these versions are authentic; many of them are not.
What makes a version authentic is not a denominational or cultural label or any other marking likely to set us at ease. What makes a version of Jesus the real thing and not human fantasy is whether it invariably returns us to what is most important, what reveals divine love completely.
The knowledge of Jesus as Lord and personal Saviour should become a living, personal experience for each Christian. This relationship is not theoretical or abstract. God does not need us in the abstract. He needs us and meets us in the concrete; the everyday; the real; the now. Frankly, God just needs us to show up. And this is how we evangelize. we can share how Christ has shown up for us. We can share how Christ has shown up for others. And if we carry that message authentically and consistently, the people we meet along the way may come to believe that if Jesus showed up for us, he will show up for them, too.