Peter and Jesus
Matthew 16: 13-20
Who do you say that I am?
Brothers and Sisters all, Matthew’s Gospel we would agree warmly focusses on Jesus’ pastoral heart. In his dialogue with Peter Jesus builds his relationship as a heart to heart. We note that Jesus looks beyond Peter’s failures, his at time cowardice, his impetuosity- as Jesus asks of Peter that probing question ‘Who do you say that I am’
When in boarding school all those years ago at Geelong under the care the Christian Brothers – I experienced in them qualities in leadership that shared compassion, wisdom prayer and challenge. Often, I recall those days and in particular the moving story of one of the boys who came to us via a different channel – as a ward of state. We were encouraged to become his peers, his friend, his colleague and to share the life and harmony of our school. I’ll call him Brian (this was not his name). All too soon Brian became highly unpopular, he was so obnoxious, always angry, fighting, swearing, unkind and mean. It was clear he didn’t want to be with us, and the feeling was lastingly mutual among us, no-one wanted him to stay. But, one wise and caring Christian Brother looking long and caringly with his compassionate heart wanted to know more about Brian. Going to his file he learnt from whence he came, and with the permission of Brother Superior he went to Brian’s hometown located in a far-off distant place in country Victoria.
Going to the Local parish Priest, Bro learnt how things had gone so badly in young Brian’s early life. With a saddened heart the Parish priest spoke of Brian’s family situation, his Father an aggressive and angry chronic alcoholic, his Mother, so unloved and abused, at home, became a lady in the street. Brian after being laughed at and mocked by his peers at school for always arriving in dirty and smelly clothes turned to truancy. He would spend long days in the streets he would take milk bottles and the money left out for the milkman from his neighbours steps, raid their letter boxes, cast the mail in all directions and bring attention to himself through his anti-social behaviour.
The police were alerted and after many efforts to help – Brian was brought before the children’s courts, there he was made ward of state and assigned to the Turana disciplinary centre. The Christian Brothers hearing his story appealed for him and Brian came to Geelong. Yes, those first months with us were hard as we witnessed his many outbursts, his many tears, but, patiently, this kind Brother saw to Brian’s counselling in ongoing care programs- slowly Brian’s suspicions and rejection of everyone turned into trust, his heart of hatred turned into love and care, his lack of faith into a growing prayerful relationship with his God and through it all Brian began to appreciate he was loved and loveable and so he began to believe in himself. Brian experienced as I believe Peter experienced in his encounter with Jesus in our Gospel today, that he was valued for who he was.
Once these counselling and healing steps came through Brian experienced acceptance and encouragement from his peers, respect and love – everyone rejoiced with him as he became an achiever in his studies, in sport and accepted socially among us. His talents gave him responsibilities. Leadership positions given him and when gaining his VCE some years after his arrival at Geelong all rejoiced at what love what insightful care can do. “Perhaps those remarkable words from Nelson Mandela were very much these words in Brian’s heart too ‘ when he realised ‘My greatest enemy was not those who put or kept me in prison. It was myself, I was afraid to be who I am.”
Brian learn to believe in himself. Brain became so full of purpose, he made Policing his vocation and, in his turn, looked out for dysfunctional families and children in similar circumstances to his own, doing marvelous work for victims abused and rejected young people. His gifts his confidence called him into leadership achieving the Senior Sergeant responsibility a position he held for many years before his retirement some years ago now.
It’s a great story its everyone’s story as in Matthew’s Gospel today we are to let Jesus speak to our hearts and in turn we meet Jesus heart to heart. Experience the joy of being called to be his disciple and in that call rejoice that we are entrusted with responsibilities- responsibilities that will effect many around us, be it through our parish life, or workplaces, in our families.
Remember the Peter who said in answer to the question ‘who do you say that I am?’ said ‘You are the Christ’ is the same Peter who would say ‘ I do not know the man’. This tells us that there was a division within Peter, just as there is within each of us. Peter at one time courageous at another when put to the test- cowardly – just as we are. We recognise our high and low moments- sometimes letting our low moments get the better of us- Jesus points to our High moments draws them out in us – these high moments are to work for the Lord.
Good Words of advice stay with us such as a Brother saying to me having putt me in charge of our dormitory:- and failing terribly he asked me to do an essay on this sentence:- ‘Responsibility given to one seen to be responsible, must be carried out responsibly’ I found this a good exercise as these words have remained with me throughout my life as a priest remaining a constant challenge facing many times questions in my leadership in Parish life in service and care for all throughout the governance and spiritual growth needs of parish life.
Yes, Matthew’s 16:13-20 is a great Gospel: Jesus in his heart to heart understanding of Peter teaches us that low moments in the lives of others should not cause us to put them down or to write them off. We are to believe that their good moments will help us appreciate their potential and we are to affirm them and encourage them always.
Sadly, of ourselves we might admit we have been all too hasty to speak our criticisms and have remained reluctant to give a single word of encouragement – there are so many out there waiting for our words of encouragement and appreciation which never come. It’s us they want to hear it from.
Peter had his faults, they were obvious. I’m often saddened to hear first comments about another person – as comments tearing them apart /discrediting them. My own wish is to hear from all of us, words that appreciate, that affirm that build up. The reality is – “In considering what people are not, we overlook what they are.”
Peter showed his strengths for Leading – “you are Peter and, on this rock, I will build my church” -in speaking these words to Peter, Jesus speaks to us his disciples – ‘so do you’
Our call is to be Christlike as we look deeply into each one’s heart, seeking good in everyone, generously revealing it and patiently bringing it out- as Peter Experienced.
May the good Lord who began this good work in you, bring it to fulfillment. Amen.