Author: Fr Thomas Plant Page 1 of 30
“Who do you say that I am?”
That’s the million-pound question for Simon. He’s already got the ‘ask the audience’ answers up on the board, as it were: some say he’s John the Baptist (difficult, given that John was by this stage suffering from a slight case of death), some say he’s Elijah, others Jeremiah (both more decidedly dead, several hundred years before). Which means that everyone is saying that Jesus is a prophet, because Jeremiah, Elijah and John all prophesied the coming of the Messiah, the anointed one – in Greek, the Christ – who would come to judge and save the Jewish people. They thought that Jesus was yet another of these prophets, heralding the Christ’s coming.
But Simon doesn’t choose any of the answers on the board, because, to stretch the metaphor, he’s opted to ‘phone a friend. Or, properly speaking, he’s already been ‘phoned by a friend: God. Somehow, the right answer has been mystically revealed to him:
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
“That’s right,” says Jesus. “Correct! Spot on! Bingo! You, Simon, get to go home with this luxury three-piece suite.”
Jesus isn’t just another prophet, waiting for the Messiah: He is the Messiah and Son of God.
Just as Simon has correctly identified Jesus, so Jesus gives Simon a new identity: a nickname. “Peter,” Petros in Greek, wasn’t actually a proper name in Jesus’ day. It meant “stone” or “rock.” “Peter” basically means “Rocky” (cue The Eye of the Tiger for S. Peter’s fitness regime montage.) Jesus’ joke – if that’s what it is – makes more sense when you know this: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church” would really have sounded more like, “You are Rocky, and on this rock I will build my Church.”
But with a serious meaning. Jesus is making Peter the leader, even the foundation, of what will become the entire Christian Church. He is giving him the virtual keys to the Kingdom – that’s why, if you see a statue in a church of bearded man holding a pair of keys, it’s St Peter – delegating the power to set people free from fear and sin and admit them to eternal life in divine love.
But what: Peter, leader of the Church? You mean the fisherman Peter, who maybe couldn’t even write, definitely didn’t get C or above in GCSE maths and English (OK, Greek or Aramaic); Peter, who got so little of Jesus’ teaching that he’d get a sword out to fight the guards who came to take Jesus away; Peter, who would betray Jesus three times before the cock crowed, deserting his Lord and friend, the commoner, the runaway, the failure?
The same Peter who denied the crucified Lord three times would be told three times by the Resurrected Lord, “feed my sheep. Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep.”
All because he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
So, it’s over to Jeremy Clarkson for the answer…
If Peter was wrong, then all we’ve got left is a dead prophet.
If Peter was wrong, then his own death by crucifixion on an inverted cross on 29 June in AD 64 was meaningless.
If Peter was wrong, then all the others who have followed Christ for the last 2000 years have wasted their time. You can’t feed a Church of millions with a dead prophet.
But if he was right?
Then love invites us to an everlasting feast, free from evil, free from fear – and Peter is already there, waiting to open the door, in his hand, the key:
“Who do you say that I am?”
Sunday evening: the first day of the week. The disciples have locked themselves away in their room, afraid – that they might go the same way Jesus did, two days before.
A figure appears among them.
“Peace be with you.”
The first time, they don’t understand. They don’t even recognise Jesus. It’s only when he shows them the wounds in his hands and sides that they understand who he is. Only when they see the marks of his suffering that they understand what he is saying.
“Peace be with you.”
Of course, they know the word, the Hebrew greeting which they as Jews would use every day: peace, shalom. And they know, as pious Jews, that this peace is the intended state of creation, the Sabbath rest of the seventh day in Genesis which represents perfection, a world in harmony with itself and its creator. But only on this eighth day, this second sabbath, do they realise what that peace of God really means.
Easter, the fifty-day celebration of Christ’s Resurrection, is not about a zombie Jesus. It’s not a straightforward coming back from the dead. John’s mysterious account of the Lord appearing, revealing, breathing, vanishing should be enough to show us that. And in fact, whenever the resurrected Jesus appears in the Bible, there is this common thread that at first, the disciples do not recognise or understand him.
He comes to Mary Magdalene outside his tomb, and she mistakes him for a gardener.
He comes to two disciples walking the road to Emmaus, even explains the prophecies in the Old Testament about him to them, but they do not recognise him or understand until he breaks bread.
And now, he appears and says, “peace.” But they do not recognise or understand until he shows them his wounds.
Only then does Jesus breathe on them and give them the gift of the Holy Spirit, and says that he is giving it for the forgiveness of sins.
Only then do they see that God’s peace comes through forgiveness: it is Jesus’ forgiveness of those who killed him, his forgiveness of themselves for having fled and betrayed him, which he is giving them to share with the world.
Only then do they see the full depths of that love, that self-giving, life-giving, forgiving love of God, which can free them from their fear.
And they are glad.
Relativism is the new absolute and tolerance the new prime virtue. But so what? Maybe the moderns are right, and this is the only way to ensure a peaceful, ordered or at least bearable society. One in which, even if we do not achieve perfect harmony, we can at least put up with each other’s differences as long as they do not get in the way.
There are worse possibilities. Authoritarian regimes, acts of uniformity, prisoners of conscience, persecuted sexual minorities, ethnic cleansing. History has seen enough of those, many (though by no means all, or even the worst of them) under the aegis of religious “truth.” Such truth, history seems to teach, is not worth the cost. I respectfully return my ticket.
“Teaching must renounce the authority of the teacher… The teacher must aspire to be neutral.” – The Discussion of Controversial Values in the Classroom, 1969
There is no such thing as a neutral education. As soon as we begin to teach something to someone else, we are inevitably making value judgements about what we are teaching, how we are teaching it and why we are teaching it. Any decision we make about what or how to teach contains within it, an implicit understanding of the human condition, of what is important in life, of the relationships we want to foster, and of what is worth learning, knowing or questioning. – The Fruit of the Spirit, A Church of England Discussion Paper on Character Education, 2015, p.3