The Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter the Apostle
For many prayerful people, God’s love is largely theoretical. They can intellectually grasp that God is love, but they do not feel it. I have been among this class of people, and I have listened to others express a similar lament. When someone tells me they intellectually know that God is love but they do not feel it, I ask them the same question that was put to me when I felt this way: “Who is Jesus for you?” Often, this question takes people by surprise. Often, (and it was the case for me) there is an uncomfortable silence, and a level of uncertainty is expressed. For many prayerful people, Christians among them, even people who love God, and who desire to follow God; many of them remain ambivalent about Jesus.
There are any number of reasons for this, which I won’t go into here. I have found that Jesus is the door to a deeper level of intimacy, and experience of the love of God. That’s the significance of the confession of Saint Peter, which is the feast we keep today. Peter is the first to identify Jesus as the Messiah, the son of the living God.[i] That’s who Jesus is for Peter. And while we cannot know for certain exactly what Peter believed about God prior to this acknowledgement, we can be sure that he did not believe God was a flesh and blood human being. For Peter, we can be sure, that, prior to his confession, God was not a person Peter could gaze at, walk with, talk to, touch, laugh and cry with, or lie to. God was not a person who could bleed, stumble, feel pain, experience disappointment, betrayal, loss, and grief, and who could die. Prior to his confession, it is safe to say, that, for Peter, God was not a person who loved his mother, desired friendship, enjoyed eating and drinking, and attending a good party.
Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God marks a profound change in Peter’s conception of God, and makes possible a level of intimacy, and experience of the love of God previously unavailable to him.
That’s because intimacy and love are built upon the rock of mutual vulnerability: the recognition that loving one another involves the danger – the inevitability – of hurting one another. An author I like compares the experience of loving and being loved with being born into a kind of paradoxical 4-H club. He writes, “If I am close enough to hug someone, then I am close enough also to be hugged by that person; but I am also close enough to hit or to be hit – even if, as often happens, the blow is accidental. In a less physical image of the same 4-H’s, if I let people close enough to heal me, then they are close enough for me to heal them; but in coming that close, we can not only heal but we can also hurt each other – again, perhaps, unintentionally.”[ii]
Being hurt is part of the experience of being loved, and this is not a bad thing. It is a real thing. The reality of mutual vulnerability is the reason why we need one another, and it is the reason why we need God, and why God needs us. Intimacy and love means confessing to one another, through word and deed, that even though I run the risk of being hurt by you, I am going to let you close enough to heal me. This reality is no less true with regard to our relationships with one another, as it is with God. Jesus makes that possible. Jesus is God. And God is a real, vulnerable, flesh and blood human being. As Christians – believers that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God – we are to relate to God on those terms. That’s what makes God’s love real; that what makes our love for one another real: the confession of mutual vulnerability. If you know that God is love, but you do not currently feel it: Who is Jesus for you?
[i] Matthew 16:16
[ii] Kurtz and Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection. pg. 228.