Introduction to Christology 101 — Are We Ready to Follow the Path St. Peter Walked?
Peter “did not understand the path of suffering” and “began to rebuke” Jesus — until Jesus rebuked Peter in no uncertain terms.
Continuing this simple guided study in the field of Christology, which is the study of the person and natures of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we have established that there is no possible way that any rational person could ever doubt whether Jesus of Nazareth was an actual historical figure.
We pointed out that even if we were to consider the New Testament merely a document of faith — and while it is a divinely-inspired document of faith, it is also a historical document — there are several historical works that attest to the reality of the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth. We had mentioned that there are several non-Christian sources describing this man from Nazareth, who was crucified and whose followers believe him to be the Messiah and to be risen from the dead.
Yes, no one can deny that there was a historical figure who was named Jesus of Nazareth. But it takes faith to say that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God! Peter, the first pope, exhibited that faith in the Gospels when the Lord Jesus asked, “Who do men say that I am?” (Mark 8:27). Note that it is not enough for the believer in Jesus to simply state who others believe Jesus to be. It is absolutely necessary for the individual to answer the second question posed by the Lord Jesus in that eighth chapter of Mark’s Gospel: “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29).
When we call Jesus the “Christ,” we are making a statement of faith. We are stating that we truly believe that he is the Messiah, the Savior, the Lord, and the Son of God. Every believer when he or she begins the study of Christology must renew his or her own personal belief in the Incarnate Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity. Therefore, it is important for us in our study of Christology to recognize that a major aspect of our focus must go beyond the intellectual dimension, but also into the spiritual dimension. We must, along with “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” (Phillippians 2:11, RSVCE).
Likewise, it is important to remember that it is not enough to make a personal act of faith in Jesus as Lord; it is not enough to fall in love personally with Jesus and to proclaim him Christ. No, we must fall in love with Jesus and proclaim him as Christ in his Body, the Church. When we read of the same questioning of the disciples in Matthew’s Gospel, Our Lord Jesus not only commends Peter personally for his faithful answer but also charges him with a tremendous responsibility due to his response. The Lord states in Matthew 16:
“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
We must learn about and love Our Lord Jesus in his Body, the Holy Catholic Church, founded on the Rock who is Peter. Therefore, it is necessary for us to study what the Church officially teaches about the Lord Jesus. We need to turn to the fonts of Divine Revelation, namely Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, as well as the magisterium of the Church for answers as we begin our study.
For our reading this week, may I present the following Feb. 28, 2014, reading from Pope Francis, who said Peter “was certainly the most courageous one that day, when Jesus asked his disciples: but who do you say that I am? … For he responded decisively: ‘You are the Christ.’”
The Pope added that Peter was likely quite “satisfied within himself,” thinking, “I answered well!” And truly “he had answered well,” the Pope said.
But his dialogue with Jesus did not end so well, the Pope added. “The Lord began to explain what would happen,” but “Peter did not agree” with what he was hearing. “He did not like the path” that Jesus set forth.
Today, too, “many times we hear within ourselves” the same question that Jesus addressed to the Apostles. Jesus “turns to us and asks us: who am I for you? Who is Jesus Christ for each of us, for me? Who is Jesus Christ?” Surely, Pope Francis said, “we will respond as Peter did, as we learned in the catechism: You are the Son of the living God, you are the Redeemer, you are the Lord!”
Yet Peter’s reaction was different once “Jesus began to explain all that would happen to him: the Son of man would have to suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and by the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
Peter most certainly “did not like this talk.” He thought, “You are the Christ! Conquer and let’s move ahead!” For Peter “did not understand the path of suffering” that Jesus indicated. So much so, the Gospel tells us, that Peter “took him, and began to rebuke him.” He was “so pleased with having responded, ‘you are the Christ.’ that he felt he had the strength to rebuke Jesus.”
The Pope then read, word for word, Jesus’ reply to Peter as recorded by the evangelist: “Turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, ‘Get behind me Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.’”
Therefore, in order “to respond to that question which we all hear in our hearts — Who is Jesus for us? — what we have learned and studied in the Catechism does not suffice.” Certainly “it is important to study and to know it, but it is not enough,” the Pope insisted. For in order to know him truly, “we need to travel the path that Peter traveled.”
For our reflection this week, perhaps we might wish to ponder the following question: Who do I say that Jesus is? Has this changed in my life of prayer and worship since I became more catechized in the faith of the Church?