Today’s Gospel Jesus asks his Apostles “Who do people say that the son of man is.” The Apostles respond to Jesus that the people are calling Him John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, even one of the prophets. No one is willing to take that next step and do the unthinkable for it was blasphemous for any man to call himself God or for that matter to call another man God!
Peter in his courageousness responds to Jesus’ asking “Who do you say that I am” by responding “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter, with all his imperfections, was able, through the grace of the father, to courageously call Jesus the Son of God before both God and man. Because of his courageousness and as an example to the other eleven, Jesus then tells Peter “you are Peter, (in the Greek Kephas meaning Rock), and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
This entire encounter with Jesus Christ is not to reveal to Jesus anything He didn’t already know. Jesus, in His divinity, was aware from all eternity who He was, and no one, not even Peter, could reveal to Jesus who He was. Jesus provides Peter an opportunity to reveal His faith to himself and to the other eleven. In fact, it is Peter’s Confession of Faith in Jesus, that He is willing to do the unthinkable, to profess that Jesus Christ is more than a mere moral being – that He is the messiah, the Christ, the Lord God himself, is an act that is meant to teach the other Apostles why Peter is to be given the primacy.
Jesus Christ tells Peter “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father… 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.”
As a matter of example, Jesus shows the Apostles that it’s not Peter’s own doing but rather the Father who has chosen Peter to lead the twelve and so thus gives him the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Peter is established as the first Pope and given authority to bind and loose on Earth and in Heaven.
It is by this act that Jesus fulfills his promise that he will not leave us orphans. Before He is to return to the Father and send the Holy Spirit, He first establishes a Church and puts in place a visible head who, under the inspiration and protection of the Holy Spirit, will not lead the Church astray.
This is teaching of the 1st Vatican Council, that the Pope cannot err when in exercise of his office as Pope defines a doctrine concerning faith of morals to be held by the whole Church. This teaching doesn’t mean that Pope’s cannot make mistakes or that they cannot err in certain matters, especially matter of their own opinion. In fact, this doesn’t even mean that we cannot have bad Popes. In today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah we hear the warning that a man who leads His people unworthily shall be thrust down from their office and another clothed in his robes. The warning to those who lead is very strict – that those whom the Father has clothed with authority shall lead His people in virtue otherwise they shall be cast down. This applies not just to the office of Peter but to all bishops, priests, deacons and those whom have been placed in authority to lead and teach the people of God.
The promise of Jesus is this, that whomever the holder of the Office of Peter is, that the Father will never allow Him to bind the whole Church to believe anything that is in error concerning Faith and morals.
It is for this reason, as Catholics, we don’t engage in Pope worship. We respect honor, and recognize the authority given to the successor of Peter by almighty God himself. Though the Holy Father is the Vicar of Jesus Christ on Earth, he remains, like us, a fallible human being who can make mistakes just as any one of use can. We make a terrible mistake whenever we place our hope and faith in human beings because human beings will let us down and it is for this very reason that Jesus shows us that it is the Father at work in Peter and not himself leading the Church.
The mission for us is do we live our lives like Peter or do we live our lives like the crowd? Do we live our lives so that others know that we proclaim that Jesus Christ is indeed the one we worship, the one we proclaim as God? When our time for judgment comes the Father will look at how we lived our earthly lives and it will serve as testimony to the question He will ultimately ask us “Who do YOU say that I am?” The only answer will be, how did we answer that question.