Jesus’ disciples have seen him walk on water, and feed five thousand people. They have seen the crowds respond joyfully to his teaching. Perhaps they have also felt challenged and disturbed by the radical nature of Jesus’ mission – welcoming sinners and pagans, as in last Sunday’s Gospel, when he praised the Canaanite woman for her great faith (after having reproached Peter as a ‘man of little faith.’)
They must be wondering who it really is that they are following – perhaps discussing it among themselves. And now, Jesus asks them: who do you say I am? Simon gives the right answer. Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah, God’s anointed one. And he is the Son of God.
Simon is able to give this answer, not because of human wisdom, but because God has revealed the truth to him. And the consequences of his profession of faith are dramatic. Jesus gives Simon a new name – Peter, the rock. With the new name comes a new calling. Peter is being called to a role of leadership in the Church, which will continue Christ’s mission after his death and resurrection.
Jesus calls disciples, and not admirers. When we recognise him as the Son of God, he calls us to a life-changing response. Peter ultimately gave his life for Christ. We are asked to do the same.