Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’ And Jesus answered him. ‘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.’
There are two meanings to confession in the Church and they take different forms. Both forms of confession are evidenced in Peter’s ministry. There are seemingly two different versions of the same man Simon-Peter in the Gospels. We have something to learn about our own faith in Jesus Christ and what He is looking for in us when we discover the two expressions or versions of Peter.
First, confession: When we hear of Christians making their confession in the Church they are usually referring to making a sacramental confession before a priest or a bishop. We have just spent two classes in the middle and high school classes in our church school learning about sacramental confession and how to make a sacramental confession. When anyone “makes a confession” in the Church of this sacramental kind, the penitent is indeed stating out loud in the confessional all the sins committed since the last confession. The sins are outwardly confessed in that the confessor can hear them and the penitent can hear them. They are, in a particular sense, made real and objective. They can be, in a sense, “looked at” because they are confessed.
There is also an aspect of sacramental confession that is like The Confession of Peter from today’s Gospel. When a penitent makes a sacramental confession there is a belief, a trust, a faith that the Church in this world has the Holy Spirit active and alive in the Church’s ministry and can speak for Christ. Christ and the Holy Spirit are one. By making a sacramental confession the faith of the penitent is witnessing that what Christ told Peter after Peter’s confession is the truth. Jesus said, after Peter’s confession, 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. The two types of confession come together. Both proclaim that Jesus is the Christ of God and has authority on earth to forgive sins. These are the two meanings of confession.
The two types, or versions, or persons of Simon-Peter are there in the Gospels for us to see, appreciate, and learn something about ourselves in the process. On the one hand the Gospels present us with a Simon-Peter who is intense, sometimes excitable, almost foolish, way too anxious, and even bumbling. Isn’t Peter the one who impetuously jumps out of the boat first when Jesus comes walking on the water? Isn’t Peter the one who is exhausted and exasperated, and even seems irritated with Our Lord when Jesus asked him to push out from the shore and go fishing again, after he had been fishing all night? And we know it’s Peter who after Jesus’ arrest actually denies that he even knows Jesus. Yet it is this same Simon Bar-Jona Jesus comes to call a rock. It is this same Peter who risks his life to build up the Church. It is his excellent gift of humility and integrity that allows him to admit that he was wrong when barring non-Jews from the faith of the Church and he changed his mind. It was he who is the first among the apostles to outwardly and emphatically proclaim Jesus as the Christ of God. We see in the Gospels two sides of this man who Our Lord comes to claim that it is on this rock, Christ, on which He will build His church, and He did.
For us, as followers of Jesus, we have such a thorough and complete example in Saint Peter of how our whole lives can be a confession of Jesus Christ. We bring all aspects of our lives to Jesus when we choose to follow Him. Just like Saint Peter the faith we have in Jesus does not depend on the degree of goodness we have. Saint Peter was not in any way perfect. The faithfulness we have in our commitment to Jesus does matter. We bring all our virtues and our vices with us when we come to Jesus. We bring all our strengthens and our weaknesses, all our gifts and failures. Jesus takes the gifts and uses them so we can grow in our faithfulness and he takes our failures and weaknesses and uses them to reveal what we have to overcome to grow in faithfulness.
In this way, our whole lives, every part of them, are used to have us grow in faithfulness, in love, and in hope of everlasting life. In other words, growing to perfection. We can be faithful not just in spite of our imperfections, but have them be used to bring us to perfection. Just like in the case of Saint Peter. Jesus looks for faithfulness in us, and will use that to bring us to complete goodness and perfection.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.