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Who do they say that I am?

Matthew 16:13-20, CEB:  Peter’s declaration about Jesus

13 Now when Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” 15 He said, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. 18 I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it. 19 I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Anything you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. Anything you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered the disciples not to tell anybody that he was the Christ.

In Matthew 16:13 Jesus asks “What do people say about me?” Here is a story of Jesus asking what people said about him. This story is remarkable not because of what people said, but because of how Jesus responded to their opinions .

He is told that some say he is John the Baptist – killed by Herod but come back from the dead – or a prophet in the tradition of  Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the others who  had opposed the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Simon then added that they thought Jesus to be the Anointed One: “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt 16:16). These are powerful images. Perhaps in our modern imagery we might hear people saying to Jesus

  • You are the leader for our time
  • You are just what we need to lead us out of this mess
  • You are the one who will make our lives great again

And as we read the story it feels like Jesus literally brushes their words aside. Jesus was secure enough in himself not to need others boosting his ego (In fact the mark of a great leader is someone who does not need to be told how great he is!). But more revealing of the character of Jesus is what he did next. He says  “I tell you that you are Peter.  And I’ll build my church on this rock” (Matt 16:18)  Jesus says to him “I see potential in you: you are the foundation for the new movement I am beginning. I will call you Peter (Greek: Petros – a rock): a foundation stone”. Now Jesus was not stupid. He knew that Simon was not perfect. After all Simon/Peter was the man with the short temper. He was the one who had a big mouth and was quick with a knife. Jesus knew those things…. but he saw the potential: “you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church (Matt 16:18).” Jesus saw the potential of what Simon could become, and he told him that he could become Peter – one who is rock-solid.

This then is the good news of our faith: We do not have to worry about other people’s opinions of us, because God looks beyond our failures and shortcomings and sees the potential for what we can become. God does not look for the cracks in us. Instead God looks for the potential. So if anyone feels inferior, or inadequate should hear the whisper of the Spirit of God saying “You are more than a Simon…you are my Peter”!

But I would fail us if I did not point out the moment of challenge to us all: Just like God sees beyond our failings to our true potential, so we are challenged by Jesus to look for potential in the people around us. I suspect that we often focus on each other’s faults rather than looking for the human potential that lies within that person.

  • When we encounter a tired, irritated store assistant – will we see the single mother who is working two jobs to care for her family?
  • When we meet an old man struggling to park his car – will we see a father and a grandfather who is loved by his family?
  • Particularly close to us right now are the political passions that cause us to be say hate-filled words to those who hold a different opinion: I challenge us to be kind to one another
  • The Virus debate has also led us into opposing camps, where we use insults and curses towards those who hold a different opinion

The challenge of this week is to look beyond the Simon…. and to discover the Peter in the people we meet The invitation is to look for their potential. The fact is that far more good is achieved by kind words than by angry words. Let us be kind to one another. Even if you disagree – be kind.

I have found this quote to be useful: “In a World Where you can be anything – be kind”


(Sermon Preached 2020/August/23)



“To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” Finley Peter Dunne (1867–1936)