Building on Faith

The question for the disciples came from Jesus himself, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The problem for Christians today in answering this question might be how to make sense of Jesus’ humanity in the context of his true divinity. For Jesus’ apostles, standing face to face with the flesh and blood of their friend and teacher, the relevant issue seems not to have been was Jesus God, but what sort of man has God sent to us in Jesus.

In puzzling out an answer to Jesus’ question, the disciples drew on what they heard from others and perhaps what they themselves were struggling to figure out: people say you might be John the Baptist, or Elijah or some other prophet. They might have been wondering as they spoke these answers whether Jesus was more than a prophet. Could Jesus be the Messiah? It is difficult, however, to imagine the disciples, all first-century Jewish monotheists, looking at Jesus, even in light of miraculous healings, exorcisms and feedings, and saying, “We think you are God.”


But faith revealed this to Peter. When Jesus asked the disciples to answer the question for themselves, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered boldly, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus affirmed Peter in his answer by telling him: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” But what had been revealed to Simon son of Jonah? Was it that only divine revelation could unveil the faith necessary to affirm Jesus’ messiahship?

Or was it Peter’s faith that had allowed the revelation of Jesus as “the Son of the living God” to emerge? The title “son of the living God” does not necessarily imply more than messianic identity (see 2 Sm 7:14 or Ps 2:7), though clearly by the time Matthew’s Gospel was written, belief in the divinity of Jesus, however inchoate, was emerging. Jesus is affirming both the messianic identity that Simon proclaimed and the depths of Jesus’ divinity that the disciples could not yet comprehend fully but Peter brashly named in faith.

Even more, though, it is through Simon’s proclamation that Jesus makes clear that a true understanding of “who he is” is a “revelation,” an insight given by God, just as the faith given to the “infants” in Mt 11:25 was a “revelation.” Upon this revelation, Simon is given a new name, Petros, which all the Gospels attest Jesus gave to Peter (Mk 3:16, Lk 6:14, Jn 1:42). The Greek word petros, “rock,” translates the Aramaic kepha and indicates not just the faith of Peter but his function as the foundation rock of the church. It is not Peter, mind you, who builds the church, but Jesus himself who “on this rock...will build my church.”

And the rocks with which Jesus would continue to build would surprise his apostles, especially when Paul received his own “revelation” of the risen Lord (Gal 1:12, 16). The apostles were wary of Paul when he came to Jerusalem because “they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26). Could Jesus build the church with Paul, the persecutor of the earliest disciples? Could the one who ripped stones off the foundation now construct like a skilled master builder? The apostles would need to accept that Paul had been chosen to continue to build the church.

Jesus built on the faith of Peter, who had denied him three times, and he would build with the faith of Paul, who had persecuted the church of God. Indeed, Paul continued the work of the Twelve, planting churches throughout the Roman Empire. Paul acknowledged that on human terms he was “unfit to be called an apostle” (1 Cor 15:9), but the Second Letter of Timothy presents Paul offering his last testament, in which he confesses that “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” The faith Peter confessed was the faith that Paul maintained and is the faith handed on to us, by which we are built and by which we build the church today.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Bruce Snowden
3 years 10 months ago
The question is, “How does my, our, Faith in Jesus build and be built into the Church?” I find my answer partly in the Revelation, “Paul (the priest) plants and “Apollos (the layman) waters, but God gives the growth.” Seeds planted and growth promised could not happen without cooperative ministry of all including those those who supply “water,” people like me, us, What is this “water?” For me, it’s sacrificial love in any of its myriad forms, always wrapped in the prickly paper of self-denial, inescapable suffering, paradoxically flourishing in the aridity that ever nourishes sacrifice. As the priest said 47 years ago at our wedding, “Sacrifice is usually irksome. Only love can make it easy and perfect love can make it a joy!” Yes, being built and building the Church inevitably means sacrifice, a nasty word for many! Look for the joy. All of this links I believe, to the soul-boggling Words of Institution, where Faith in Jesus builds and which in turn builds Church in a body/blood heaven-rooted down to earth exchange. This Faith-realism is buttressed by Paul’s amazing assertion, that, we “make up” through personal suffering what was “lacking” in the suffering of Christ! This teaching shows me, us, how sinew-tight is the connective tissue of the Body of Christ, to the Mystical Body of Christ whom we are. We are so irrevocably linked together so tightly, that the two become as one. So, truly, that when Christ suffered Redemptively we suffer with him becoming mysteriously co-redeemers, in that way making up whatever was lacking in the sufferings of Christ! Nothing was lacking and nothing was needed as Church, you, me, all the Baptized were there to fill the “gaps!”, the Church. Christ, filling all the “gaps!” This is stunning and evokes from me only humble gratitude to God for allowing me, us, so intimate a relationship to Incarnatal Divinity, actually to the point of “participating in the Divine nature,” namely to be and build Church. What more could I, we, possibly ask for, as we go about with the whole Church building Church through Faith in Jesus with Peter and Paul ? How fabulous are the Gifts of God! How difficult to explain as I babble like an infant uttering first words!
John Bosco
3 years 10 months ago
The most Holy Trinity sent one of themselves, Jesus, the Word of God, into the world as a love note from them to us. However, the most Holy Trinity had no expectation whatsoever that we would take Him at His word. In fact, they were positive that we would doubt His message of love. We have a history of doubting the word of God. Therefore, at Calvary, the most Holy Trinity arranged to let us verify for ourselves the veracity of His message of love. Was the love note real or fake? To find out, we subjected it to a method of verification - a test - of impeccable accuracy. We baptized the Son of God while He was human, alive, tender and vulnerable in the boiling cauldron of torture and death. If fake, His love for us ought to have faded as we tortured Him and died when we killed Him. However, it did not. It survived. His love for us was real. The message of love was genuine. Buckets of His blood spilled - His very life spilled - through the wounds we opened in His body with lash, thorns, nails and spear; but, not a drop - not a drop - of His love for us (Psalm 8:4-8). The survival of His love for us is the proof that God gave us by which we know that God's love for us is trustworthy. We do not have the power to extinguish His love for us or reduce it by even the slightest measure. The dial that controls His love for us is set to the highest degree and is locked in place. The miracle of the Resurrection is not that He emerged alive from the boiling cauldron of torture and death. Indeed, His emergence was an awesome display of His omnipotence. However, the real miracle of the Resurrection was that He emerged alive with His heart still filled to the brim with love for us. The most Holy Trinity put Him into our hands to convince us to put ourselves into theirs. We have nothing to fear from God and everything to hope for. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” We are the beneficiaries of the apocalypse of God's love for us at Calvary. It is easier for us to answer the question than it was for the apostles at the time the question was asked. Jesus is the love note from God to us. Our mission in life is to search for the kingdom of the King who sent us a love note more than two thousand years ago on a hill called Calvary just outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem in a region of the earth called the Middle East, Like the magi, we search for Him. We have seen His star at Calvary and come to worship Him.
Bruce Snowden
3 years 10 months ago
John, Very beautifully expressed! I loved your theologically unctuous Trinitarian catechesis. Thanks!


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

We who know Christ must, like Paul, help others understand their experience.
Michael SimoneApril 20, 2018
Jesus still stands at the Father’s right hand, guiding the Christian community and empowering it with the Spirit.
Michael SimoneApril 20, 2018
Asking for forgiveness is essential to the Christian life; calling others to do the same is crucial to evangelization.
Michael SimoneMarch 23, 2018
Like the first Christians, we too need to see with new eyes, and Lent gave us the opportunity to clear our vision. Starting today, our mission is to catch sight of the risen Christ.
Michael SimoneMarch 09, 2018