My maternal grandmother wore her white hair long, pulled back from her face, and falling straight down her back. She spoke broken English with a heavy German accent. Her name was Marie. And she loved me.

My mother and I lived with her and my grandfather Josef off and on during my early childhood, finally staying with them for good when I was in middle school. I cannot recall hearing my grandmother say, “I love you.” At least, not in so many words.

Instead, when I was a toddler, she would shake my hand with a smile and wink as my mom and I departed for one of her brief, unhappy reconciliations with my father. There was always a dollar tucked into her palm.

When I was a teenager, she kept the cupboard stocked with Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls. My favorite sweet and an extravagance for a retired mill worker drawing on limited savings

I couldn’t have told you very much about who Marie was back then. Later I learned more. For instance, while my mother was imprisoned at the main site of Mauthausen-Gusen Concentration Camp, Grandma endured forced labor and starvation at one of the Gusen sub-camps.

If you had asked my childhood or teenaged self who my grandmother was, I suppose that I would have said a few things about her immigration from Austria, but I would have ended with this: She really loves me.

Today I would add: She taught me about the power of love. When we love someone as a gift, not as a reward, we can help them discover their own true self as the beloved.

I was reminded of my grandmother when I read about Jesus asking his friends, “Who do you say that I am?” And recalling our relationship led me to wonder just what Jesus was really asking of the disciples. (Matthew 16:13-20)

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus was clearly pleased with Peter’s insight. But maybe not for the reason that you might assume.

You see, Jesus was not giving his students a pop quiz designed to grade that their comprehension of his teachings. He was not looking for a recitation of orthodox Christology or the rote repetition of an answer provided by a catechism.

Jesus was asking an existential question. Who am I to you? Where do I fit into your life? Does our relationship define who you are at your very core?

Don’t get me wrong. Doctrines, creeds, and catechisms play an indispensable role in the life of faith for individuals and for the community. They articulate the mystery of life in union with the divine.

However, our received theology—our teachings and our dogmas—never exhaust or fully comprehend the mystery that is their deeper truth. As St. Anselm put it, theology is faith seeking understanding. A living faith for each of us involves allowing mystery—our relationship with God—to stretch us, to transform us, and to guide us personally.

Jesus was asking about relationship. And that’s how Peter answered. He recognized Jesus as his Messiah. His Savior. And you really only recognize a liberator when you yearn to be released from your own captivity.

Peter went on to explain that, in some way, he felt himself being grafted into and transformed by the divine life itself through his relationship with Jesus. “You are the Son of the living God.”

And so Jesus renamed him. From Simon Peter to Peter. To mark the transformation that was already occurring within him.

To put this another way, Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the one who loves me. And you’ve given me the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven: The power to love.”

13 Comments

  1. As I begin to ‘get’ what you’re teaching Jake, it can seem really daunting, I’ve been struggling lately with the scope of change. The more I intentionally seek relationship with the Divine, the more stuff I understand about myself that has to change. I know there’s the ‘fake it till you make it’ thing but that doesn’t sit well with me. I always have to go back, every day, to the absolute need for a change of *heart* but it’s like a constant surrender. A cartoon pamphlet from when I was young showed the Cross replacing Ego. I was too young to really understand the meaning but I think I get it now. Yesterday I received a real insight when thinking about these things (while doing the dishes!) John the Baptist said about Jesus, “He must increase and I must decrease” – it really hit home for me that this phrase is the vital key to ‘change of heart’. What I mean is… when you say that faith isn’t *what you know* but about relationship with a Divine Person … well the way that faith grows is *He must increase and I must decrease*. I visualise this as being the Cross taking the place of the Ego. And I think your line starting, “A living faith…” is wonderful, and how you explained about Peter! I found your post *enormously* encouraging, it appears to validate what I *felt* I received yesterday and so both yesterday and today I feel very glad! Once again I reiterate my profound thanks for what you share here on your blog Jake.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As I’ve reflected on your comment, Liz, a couple of thoughts have bubbled up. The first is to remember that we walk an eternal and infinite path. If we look ahead we may feel overwhelmed by the distance we will eventually travel. So it’s important to be as present to today as possible. This is not denial. Neither is it flippantly living just for today. It’s embracing God and being embraced by God in the actual life we are actually given. Some people call this mindfulness. Secondly, the paradox of following Jesus is that to decrease is to increase, to give our lives away is to receive true life, to die to self is to become our true selves. Rohr is fond of reminding us that the Ego is the false self. What a wonderful journey you’re on! Be kind to yourself and graciously accepting of yourself along the way. Enjoy this walk without worrying over much about the destination. Someone once said that the Way is the Destination. I find that helpful. Maybe you will too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for your generosity in response Jake. “To decrease is to increase” is another beautiful phrase to add to truths I hold dear. And in the Bible KJV, I recalled “increase” is also used as a word for harvest (had to double-check that) making the phrase even more powerful – love it!!!

        Liked by 1 person

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