In our Gospel reading for today, after Jesus asks His disciples what the people are saying about Him, He then asks them what they think: “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus is wise enough to know that this confession of faith does not come from him but from the Father, and says, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”
Thinking of Peter, I was drawn to the phrase that Jesus uses: “upon this rock I will build my church.” Jesus does not say, “upon this rock I build my church.” This is important because, when we read the Gospels, we know that Peter has a lot to go through before he seems to be anything like a “rock.”
At this point in the Gospel, Peter still has a lot to learn. He still has to understand what is going to happen to Jesus. He still needs to learn that he cannot rely on his own strength, which he realizes most poignantly on Good Friday when, out of fear, he denies that he even knew Jesus. He has to repent and then experience reconciliation with the Resurrection of Jesus (John 21:15-19). And after that, he has to receive the Holy Spirit. And indeed, he becomes a rock for the Church, until he is martyred for the Gospel.
Peter’s journey indicates to us that we too have to go through times of repentance and reconciliation, death and resurrection. We, too, are called to be a “rock” for others, just as there are times when others are a “rock” for us. And although we have not been given the “keys to the kingdom,” as Peter was, we have been given “keys” to life with God. We have been given Jesus as Lord and Savior. We have been given the Holy Spirit. We have been given the Word and the sacraments. We have been given love and grace beyond anything we could possibly deserve or earn.
May we use the “keys” of Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection to enter more deeply into the love that God has for us and the commandment to love one another.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.