In this week’s Gospel, Jesus poses two questions to his disciples: Who do people say I am? and Who do you say I am?
While others, in attempting to identify Jesus, have placed him in the long and distinguished line of Jewish prophets, Peter’s own answer is, “the Messiah”. Jesus’ response is intriguing. Peter, he declares, could only have identified him as Messiah by divine revelation, and on the strength of this he, Simon, this simple fisherman whose courage will fail him at the moment of trial, is nevertheless the Rock on which the Church will be built. This gives new significance to Isaiah’s instruction “Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the LORD. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug”.
Then, having entrusted Peter with what is both an astonishing privilege and an awesome responsibility, Jesus, we are told, “sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah”. Why would he do this? The same puzzling instruction is to be found in Mark’s Gospel, many more times than in Matthew’s in fact. When the disciples finally appreciate that Jesus is indeed the Christ, they are commanded to tell no one – a commandment that Mark suggests they are not long in breaking. So why does Jesus want them to be silent?
One answer is this. The Messiah is not another prophet with an important message to proclaim. He is, rather, the fulfilment of all prophetic messages, the person who inaugurates the world to which the prophets have been pointing. This realisation is not something that could be inferred on the basis of scriptural knowledge or exegesis. That is why the learning of the Pharisees, however valuable in many respects, must always fall short of the thing at which they aim. By the same token, relatively uneducated fishermen can come to understand the significance of Jesus. As Isaiah puts it in the Old Testament lesson “though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away”. Recognizing Christ’s Messiahship is a gift, not an accomplishment. Hence the commandment to silence. Others cannot come to identify Jesus as the Messiah simply by being informed. They have to arrive at the confession that Jesus is Lord for themselves. Informing them prematurely, paradoxically, may get in the way.
This is what St Paul is referring to in his letter to the Roman Christians when he calls them to the “renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God”. A mind renewed is not one that has acquired more skills or gathered more information. It is a mind that thinks of the skills and information that it possesses in a different way -- as “gifts that differ according to the grace given to us”. Such a mind is profoundly humble, content to accept its own aptitudes for what they are, and not rivalling or aping others. This humility, though, is grounded in the highest aspiration. Those who accept that “we who are many, are one body in Christ” can then hope that the mind renewed within them is the mind of Christ.
Of course, St Paul had to keep reminding Christians of this. Experience shows how feeble our grasp and how flickering our understanding can be. But that is precisely where the Messiah promised by Isaiah comes to our aid. “My salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended”.
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