Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”
No other religious figure or founder would ask such a question. This is the primordial and peculiar question of the Christian faith. It has to do with him and who he is. And so the Church, for the first several centuries, fought intellectually over precisely this odd question.
The first group that “responds” is the general public, giving a range of opinion—and all of it wrong. And if we were to take a public opinion poll today, we would hear “teacher, prophet, guru, madman . . .”
Then that devastating question: “But who do you say that I am?” You who are closest to me, surely you have a clearer grasp than the common run of people. But the disciples don’t speak. Are they afraid? Perhaps. Are they ignorant? Probably.
Finally, Simon Peter speaks: “You are the Christ.” In Matthew’s version of the scene, Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” This is the mystical faith that stands at the heart of Christianity. To hold this Petrine faith is to be a Christian; to deny it is not to be a Christian.