The recent violent unrest on the streets of our cities has raised many disturbing questions. The initial reactions of fear and outrage fill the headlines at the moment. The months and years ahead must be given to the rediscovery of a vision that will bring healing to our society.
The encounter between Jesus and his disciples at Caesarea Philippi set out such a vision. When he began to question his disciples Jesus had been with his disciples for some time. They had been instructed at the Sermon on the Mount and had witnessed the healing presence of Jesus. They had glimpsed something that could transform a broken world. The time had come to commit themselves to the hope that was stirring in their hearts.
Jesus began to probe their longings for a better world with a general question: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” At first, the disciples did not speak for themselves. Instead, they escaped into the general expectation that Jesus had aroused among the populace. “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” These responses demonstrated that society at the time of Jesus, no less than in our own time, was longing for answers. As we long for the healing of our society, so they longed for another John the Baptist, another Elijah or Jeremiah. The long tradition of the Old Testament had brought them to believe that God himself, through his promised Messiah, would bring redemption to a sinful world. There was widespread expectation, but without the commitment of faith such expectation would come to nothing. Jesus therefore pressed for a more personal commitment: “But you, who do you say that I am?”
Peter’s response closed the gap between expectation and commitment: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
In describing Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, Peter was committing himself, and his generation’s longing for salvation, to the person of Jesus. Confronted with the present crisis in our own society, we, as Christians, might well look at the exchange between Peter and Jesus with fresh eyes. Many questions will be asked in the months ahead, and many solutions will be offered. Expectation alone, without the deep and personal commitment of all involved, will solve nothing. Peter’s great act of faith took him beyond the general expectation. In a world that could not save itself he committed himself and his life to the vision proclaimed by Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount.
We are all called to play our part in the healing of our society. The issues are undoubtedly complex, and there will be many competing voices in the debate. As this process begins, we, with Peter, are invited to profess where we stand. Jesus asked Peter: “Who do you say that I am?” Let us ask ourselves what place we give to Christ in our vision for a future society. Confronted with a direct question, Peter committed himself. Our Christian voice will bring little to the present situation without the deep and personal faith that Peter demonstrated. When we seek to live as those committed to Christ as the healing of our lives the world will begin to see in us a healing for which it longs.
Let us commit ourselves, and our broken world, to Christ. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter became the rock, the leader of our faith precisely because he committed himself to Jesus as the Christ, the saviour of the world. Let us allow our faith in Christ to become a foundation for healing.