In our Gospel reading, our Lord conducts an informal two-item survey of sorts among his disciples. The survey has two similar-sounding but significantly different questions.
The first question is: “Who do people say that I am?” And the second: “Who do you say that I am?”
While the first question immediately elicits responses, the second one leaves the disciples stumped and speechless–until Simon Peter blurts out his answer.
We understand, of course. The first question is much easier–and safer–to answer. It’s simple enough to report to Jesus what other people are saying about him, but when we’re asked about what we ourselves think and who we believe him to be, that’s a completely different story. The first is about hearsay; the second is about a decision. Whether we like it or not, the answer we give him becomes some sort of personal commitment. Who we say Jesus is–that makes all the difference.
In the gospel, Simon Peter, as usual, takes a risk and probably says the first thing that came to his mind. Fortunately, in this case, he is absolutely right. But his response–his unabashed recognition of Jesus as the Messiah–has been made possible by divine grace, as our Lord himself explains. “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you,” he tells Peter, “but my Heavenly Father.” The Lord is clearly pleased with Peter, but it isn’t so much because of his response as his courage and willingness to move from hearsay to faith.
You see, every person’s faith really started out as hearsay, literally. We first heard about God and His only Son, and the entire salvation history, from our parents, teachers, and priests. We didn’t immediately know about Jesus directly; we only heard about him first. In a word, hearsay. Faith becomes faith only when we choose to believe what we have heard other people say about Jesus. But that’s only the first step. From knowing about Jesus through other people we must strive to get to know Jesus personally. This personal knowledge of our Lord comes only through our experience of Him in our lives and in our prayer. And as in the case of Peter, it requires divine grace, but also as in his case, it asks of is courage and the willingness to take a risk.
Maybe today we can ask ourselves the second question that our Lord asks His disciples: Who do you say that I am? And the best response comes not in words, but in our decisions and actions, in our lives.
What has started out as hearsay must eventually turn I to something heartfelt.