There is a little story book for children written by Susan Balika and Craig Boldman. The book is about a little boy, whom we’ll call Bobby. Bobby tells us about his four best friends. First, there is Jimmy. Jimmy and Bobby go on imaginary trips to the moon. But sometimes Jimmy visits his grandmother and leaves Bobby all alone. This makes Bobby very sad.
Second, there’s Jamie. Jamie and Bobby used to color pictures and tape them to the refrigerator door for everyone to see. But then Jamie moved, and now Bobby misses her very much.
Third there is David. David and Bobby spend hours together building houses out of wooden blocks. There’s one problem. Sometimes they fight and David goes home, leaving Bobby all alone.
Finally, there’s Bobby’s special and best friend. This friend never leaves him. He never moves to a different city. He never gets mad and goes home. He always stays at Bobby’s side. For example, in summer they lie on the grass together and discuss where clouds come from. In winter they slide down hills together on a sled in the crunchy white snow. By now you are probably wondering who Bobby’s special friend is. You have to turn to the last page in the book. There you find a picture of Bobby’s best friend. It is Jesus! The book ends with Bobby asking this question of the reader: “Do you know my special friend, Jesus?”
In this presidential campaign season, there are almost weekly Gallup’s and opinion polls to find out what people are thinking about the president’s performance and the state of his acceptance. The people’s estimate of his work by periodic opinion polls proves to be reliable. There are also opinion polls about the presidential candidates. How many points this man is ahead, and how many points that man is behind. It is important for these political candidates to receive high approving scores. Millions of dollars have been spent on ads to present these candidates to the public.
In today’s Gospel Jesus is asking the disciples, “What are the opinion polls? “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They answer, “Some says John the Baptist, some say Jeremiah, and some say Elijah or one of the prophets.” These are important and highly revered figures in the Old Testament. By answering Elijah, John the Baptist and Jeremiah, the people pay Jesus compliments of the highest order. They are exalting the man Jesus. Popular opinion sees him in so many different ways. Thinking and speaking of Jesus as a prophet, a holy man, a teacher, or a spiritual leader is understandable and acceptable. All of these opinions, however, have no validity whatsoever. They are all wrong answers. Jesus is not interested in what people say about him. He is interested in whether they have a correct understanding of him. He wants to make sure that his disciples have a correct understanding of him. Peter has the correct answer. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Speaking of Jesus as the Son of God, divine, of the same nature as the Father, will lead Jesus and his disciples to their deaths. Their deaths, however, do not discourage the Gospel writers to acknowledge the divine identity of Jesus. They give Jesus numerous titles and claims: Son of David, Son of Man, Son of God, Divine Physician, king, prophet, bridegroom, Light of the world, the door, the vine, the high priest, the firstborn of creation, the bright and morning star, and Alpha and the Omega, the Savior of the world.
For centuries, the world continues to attempt to give answers to Jesus’ question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” But our faith does not rely on people’s opinion about Jesus’ identity. Our faith is based on God’s revelation through Jesus Christ, and our personal response to his question, therefore, Jesus continues to press for our personal answer to his question, “Who do you say that I am?” To confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God involves our commitment to him and to his cause.
A man in a mental institution insisted he was Jesus Christ. Neither the nurses nor doctors, or therapists could convince him to give up his illusion. Then one day a priest visited the man. The man also introduced himself as Jesus Christ. The priest asked the man to put his arms out to the sides. Then he measured the man’s arms from fingertip to fingertip. He also measured the man from head to foot. Then he left the room and came back with a hammer and some nails.
By now the patient was becoming curious and very uneasy. “What are you doing?” he demanded.
“You are Jesus Christ, aren’t you?” asked the priest.
“Yes, of course,” blustered the patient.
“Well, then,” said the priest, putting the pieces of wood into the form of a cross and starting to nail them together, “You should know what I am doing. Now you should lie down for me to nail you to the cross.”
“Wait! Wait!” The patient shouted. “I am not Jesus Christ! What’s the matter, are you crazy or something?”
Jesus Christ says to Simon Peter, “You are Peter, an upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Jesus gives Peter the keys to the Kingdom. He entrusts to Peter the authority to conduct the business of God in the world. Jesus gives to Peter and his successors, right down to the present Pope, the fullness of authority to govern His Church according to the teachings of Jesus himself. It is not a matter of opinion whether you like the pope or you don’t like the Pope. The Church is established by God on Saint Peter and the Apostles, and Jesus did not establish it just for the first year or five years or a few hundred years. He established it till the end of time. When the successor of Peter, the Pope, declares what is morally correct, it is morally correct. What is declared a doctrine of faith is a doctrine of faith. There are some people who call themselves Catholics but have opinions contradicting with the teachings of the Church, and surely their opinions are wrong. Our faith tells us that Jesus Christ is God. And He established his church on St. Peter and he said to Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” St. Peter and his successors have had that same authority until now and to the end of time. That is our faith. It is important that we renew our confession of faith in Jesus and his Church, and re-examine our role in the Church that Jesus established on the Rock of Peter.
Pope Benedict XVI came to the World Youth Day in Madrid this week. Thousands of young Catholics lined up the streets to welcome him. Evidences of faith and trust in the successor of Peter are still strong and alive in the hearts of these young Catholics. The Pope reminds the youths that, “The Master teaches, not something learned from others, but that which he himself is, the only one who truly knows the path of man towards God, because he is the one who opened it up for us, he made it so that we might have authentic lives, lives which are always worth living, in every circumstance, and which not even death can destroy.” The Pope continues, “It is always a good thing to keep seeking. Above all, seek the truth, which is not an idea or an ideology or a slogan, but a person: Christ, God himself, who has come into our midst! You rightly wish to plant your faith in him, to ground your life in Christ. He has always loved you and he knows you better than anyone else. May these days so rich in prayer, teaching and encounters help you to rediscover this, so that you may love him all the more.”