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Jesus had been pondering the question for some time; he knew who he was, and what his call was, but what of others? What of his disciples? Had they seen? He asked them: ‘who do people say that I am?’ ‘John the Baptist’ they answered; ‘or Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ Jesus followed that with a further question: ‘and you? Who do you say that I am?’. It was Peter who replied: ‘You are the Christ, the son of the living God’. It was Peter who gathered up all that they had been thinking and suspecting since they had started on this journey with Jesus. It would have been Peter; it was always Peter who was prepared to take the risk. This time, he had got it right. ‘Blessed are you’ says Jesus, ‘for my father revealed this to you; and you are Peter, and on this rock will I build my church’. He forbade them to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. It was not the time yet. Jesus knew well that people had a very different view of messiahship than he did. But he thought the time was right to start initiating his disciples into what being the Messiah truly meant. He must suffer, and would be killed yet on the third day he would rise from the dead. Yet, as far as the disciples had come, they were not quite ready for this revolution in their view of the Messiah. Peter took Jesus aside, and told him that this should never happen. Again, it was Peter who was prepared to step into the gap; this time, he had got it very wrong: ‘get behind me, Satan’ says Jesus. Jesus tries to get them to see further; to see what being a disciple of the messiah meant. It didn’t mean earthly glory, it meant denying themselves, taking up their cross, and following Jesus. Jesus, the Messiah, whose path would take him to, and beyond, death, whatever Peter felt or said. (read Matthew 16: 13-28).


 At this stage, Peter could not see what Jesus meant by ‘Messiah’. His view of ‘Messiah’ did not include what Jesus saw. So, having got it right, he went on to get it very wrong. He must have felt a fool, stupid, rejected even. Yet, I cannot help but think that he might have been feeling proud, after being called the rock on which Jesus would build his church; that this gave him some authority, not only over the disciples, but with Jesus himself. Far from listening to what Jesus was trying to teach them, he blundered in, certain, presumably, of his own views, possibly blinkered by assumptions which Jesus’ words would blow apart, if he had but listened. So, those further words: ‘get behind me, Satan.’ Implying that Peter’s view was one that Jesus needed to thrust behind him, to turn away from. After all, Jesus was part of that society, and must have known what the ideas around the Messiah were; just as he also knew that was not what he was called to. What is vital to remember is that Jesus did not change his view of Peter as the rock; he didn’t say ‘well, actually, I’ve changed my mind; I’ll build my church on one of the others’. It was Peter’s ability to see and say that Jesus was the Messiah, that also gave him the ability to get it so terribly wrong. Arguably, it was also that ability, that courage to go where other disciples didn’t, that meant he followed Jesus after his arrest, rather than just running away. That, also, put him in position to deny that he had ever known Jesus. Yet, still, it was Peter who was the rock on which the church was built; it was Peter who preached to the gathered crowds on Pentecost (Acts 2); it was Peter who healed the lame man, and spoke in defence of himself and John (Acts 3); it was Peter who first preached the gospel to gentiles (Acts 10). Peter, who had got things so terribly wrong; who must have felt humiliated, discouraged, failed. Yet, just maybe, it was that which made him such a strong rock; that knowledge that, while he could do things well, he was also very capable of completely messing up. A knowledge which must have led to increased dependence on God, rather than on himself; a lesson hard learnt.


Of course, all this leaves out the other main figure on whom we today might argue that the church was built on (other than Jesus, of course). Paul is a major character in the New Testament, taking up much of Acts, and with many of the letters written by him. Yet, does not the same argument still stand? Paul, who had breathed threats and slaughter against the disciples, who had persecuted and imprisoned them; Paul must also have known, in the very heart of his being, that he could get things completely wrong. He had to literally lose his sight in order to truly see.


But what of us? How relevant is all this to us today? Well, I wonder how far we truly see; how well we see God’s purposes, or how far we assume God’s purpose must align with our own. I wonder, too, how far we strive to be perfect, and how able we are to accept our own shortcomings; how much we live aware that we are forgiven sinners. For that must be the crucial point for both Peter and Paul: they both knew that they had got things wrong; but they both knew that they were forgiven, they were secure in the love of the Messiah. Humility comes from the knowledge that we are not always correct, along with the love, the passion for God that comes from truly knowing that we are forgiven. That humility enables us to listen, and hopefully see, beyond the bounds of our own assumptions; and that love of Jesus, and from Jesus, hopefully, also enables us to always come back to the One who is Love, however far we have gone astray.

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