Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Moments of Clarity

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter the Apostle. In several ways, that moment, when Peter looked at his master and said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” is a hinge-point for the Christian story. As the gospel story is told, it’s the first time that one of the disciples acknowledges Jesus’ identity as the Christ. In Mark’s gospel account, it occurs midway through the book, and Jesus’ focus and direction seem to shift more intently toward Jerusalem after Peter’s confession. The moment also crystalizes Peter’s role as the head of the apostles, which is suggested in Jesus’ reply, “…on this rock I will build my church.”

What grabbed my attention this morning is the timing of this feast in the course of Jesus’ life. The full nature of Jesus’ identity won’t be revealed until he died and rises again, but this confessional moment in which Peter exclaims Jesus’ messiah-ship still shines through well before that happens. As the verses which follow reveal (“get behind me Satan”), Peter’s confession didn’t represent a full understanding of who Jesus was, but he did grasp enough of it to make his confident declaration, “You are the messiah!”

As the rest of the Jesus story plays out, there are moments of clarity followed by moments of obfuscation. Just when it looks like the disciples (and the crowds) have figured it out, they do or say something else to reveal their thick-headedness. The fact that everyone (including Peter and the other disciples) were utterly surprised when Jesus rose on the third day suggests that they still didn’t understand who Jesus was well enough to maintain their confidence through the darkness of the crucifixion. When we read those moments of doubt, this moment of confession seems little more than a distant memory. How quickly a disciple’s faith changes!

In my own life, I have fleeting moments of clarity, but they are always followed by moments (days? weeks?) of darkness and confusion. As much as I’d love to hang on to that brief episode of ebullient faith, I never seem able to grasp it tightly enough to prevent it from blowing away. Peter’s story (especially as depicted by the Transfiguration in the next chapter) confirms that I don’t need to dwell on the mountain top in order maintain my faith. Being a follower of Jesus is a life spent in varying degrees of faithfulness. We celebrate those moments when all the pieces come together in order to survive the moments when things seem to fall apart.

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