Reflection by David Pattinson
Reflection Trinity 11 Matthew 16:13-20 “But who do you say that I am?”
Who am I? One of life’s simple questions, but with a complexity of answers.
And without doubt it’s been a question many have been asking themselves as the c19 pandemic has unfolded; as the landscape of work and play has been transformed in an instant. If I can’t do that, who am I? And why does Jesus ask this question? Surely by now these disciples who have been his constant companions for months if not years know who he is? He is Jesus of Nazareth, the son of a carpenter.
But it’s not that simple. It’s clearly not that simple, because the disciples have already told Jesus that people generally were much divided on who he was. John the Baptist? Elijah? Jeremiah or one of the prophets?
But who do you say I am?
And who else would it be but Peter who speaks out; speaks up; speaks for the disciples. I was listening recently to a discussion between Dr Sam Wells the vicar of St Martins in the Field and Rachel Treweek the bishop of Gloucester. Bishop Treweek was a speech therapist, so giving people a voice has always been part of her vocation. She was commenting that there are times when you have to speak out even if that involves taking a risk; even if you might get it wrong. Peter takes a risk – he speaks out his “confession”, his belief – “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” – the fullest statement of who Jesus is in all the gospels. Peter gets it right “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah”. (Mind you. it’s worth noting that in the verses that follow, Peter speaks up again, saying that it must never happen that Jesus is killed, and gets it so wrong that Jesus responds this time with “Get behind me, Satan.” Bishop Treweek commented that it’s often in our mistakes that we grow the most.)
Now if we look at the answer Pater gives to the question, it is in two parts. Jesus is The Messiah – the one anointed by God; and He is the Son of the Living God. The first is a description of Jesus’ vocation and the second is a description of His relationship with God.
And isn’t that a good basis on which each one of us can think about the question “Who am I?”
In 2016 our archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby found out that his biological father wasn’t Gavin Welby, who his mother had married 9 months before Justin’s birth, but Sir Anthony Montague Browne, Churchill’s private secretary, with whom there had been a brief fling. What so impressed me when Justin Welby found this all out, which came as a complete surprise to everybody, was his response to the press “”I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes…” That so clearly expressed the reality that we are all children of God, or to quote the catechism in response to the question about who gave us our christian names at baptism – “wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.”
In this statement we are provided with the foundation on which we can build our own vocation. This is our identity in God which never changes.
The vocation (we might also use the word ministry) part of Peter’s confession – “You are The Messiah” opens up a lifetime vista that each of us constantly explores.What does God call me to be and do? That’s a vast subject so just some thoughts to consider, which emerge from our gospel reading and the passage in Romans:
– Recognising and carrying out our vocation happens in partnership. Firstly with God – Jesus says to Peter “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” And then within the church – the body of Christ.”so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”
– Our vocation can surprise us. I don’t suppose for a minute that Peter expected Jesus’ response to his confession, as Jesus announces Peter’s vocation “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
-Vocation is dynamic. It is evolving and changing. Peter had no idea where this “rock” vocation would take him. Vocation, then is something to be worked out and wrestled with.
– In the conversation with Sam Wells, Bishop Treweek commented that, whatever our role and skills, we are all equal in the sight of God. Paul highlights various vocations and ministries but cautions “I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.” Don’t think one vocation is better than another. We are all an important part of the body of Christ.
Jesus’ question to his disciples then seems to have several layers. It’s not just “who am I “, but “who do you say I am”. This might be put in today’s language “who am I to you?” What do I mean to you? How important am I in your life? One sermon I read on this text challenged hearers to sit down and set out the answer to that question – just to describe who Jesus is in our lives, what he means to us, and how we would describe him to others.
But another sermon provided what I feel makes a good conclusion. Today is a day where we can celebrate our own “confession” as to who we believe Jesus Christ is – our own calling to faith and vocation. But also to celebrate God’s “confession” of faith in us. As we ask God “Lord who do you say that I am?” the response is “You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased!”