On Jan. 18, we celebrate the confession of Peter, a lesser feast day in many traditions. Peter also plays a part in several other feast days, but here we celebrate one act. If you want to refresh your memory, turn to Matthew 16:13-19. We so rarely have a feast day that celebrates one event in a life that it’s worth considering why it’s so important.
Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter is the one who replies, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Peter recognizes Jesus as the one for whom they’ve been waiting.
But why, of all of the moments in Peter’s life, is this one so important that it gets its own feast day?
The standard answer might be that the church gets its start here. We might throw in some discussion of apostolic succession that is so firmly rooted in this confession. And indeed, these facts might be why the early church decided to devote a feast day to this event. These facts alone might make the church historians happy. But it may puzzle the rest of us.
What does Peter’s confession mean for us, the believers living so many centuries after the event?
I’m keenly aware that this confessing Simon Peter is the same one who will deny Jesus not many chapters later in Matthew. This feast day is a good one to do some self-assessment. In what ways do we let the world know that Christ is the Messiah? In what ways do we deny Christ?
How could Peter be so sure that Jesus was the Messiah? By the way Christ behaves. How do we travel through the world? Do our travels bear witness to God’s good news or does our life in the world undercut the good news?
On this day that celebrates Peter’s confession, let’s look at our attitudes. Are we gloomy people? Or do we bring brightness into the world? Do we focus on the bad news that comes our way? Or do we trust in God’s goodness? Do we live in a fear-based economy or a world drenched in love and generosity?
How do we treat others? Or think of it this way. You may be the only Christian that many people ever meet. What assumptions about Christians will people make based on the way that you behave? Obviously, a mean-spirited Christian isn’t going to make people want to know more about this Savior we call Jesus.
We might look at our finances. What are our priorities? We can tell, and the world can tell, by the way we spend our money. Are we giving enough to the poor and the dispossessed? Do we help fund social justice to the same extent that we fund our retirement accounts?
Many good Lutherans I know would recoil at this idea that our actions are important. They might remind us that we’re completely unable to save ourselves and that God’s grace is the only way to redemption.
True, but we need to consider our post-redemption lives. God saves us, but not so that we can sit on the sofa and feel satisfied. God saves us so that we can help with the ongoing resurrection of creation.
We might think of confession in an old-fashioned way, that we go around witnessing to people about how much we love Jesus. But a much more compelling confession is the way we live our lives. We don’t want the stranger to say, “Ugh. One of those Christian types. I can’t stand those people precisely because of that way of behavior.” We want bystanders to say, “What’s her secret?”
It’s no secret; it’s simply good news that’s several centuries old. Let our very lives sing out in praise of the Messiah. Let our path be a living confession of which the church will be proud for the next 2,000 years.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott is a lifelong Lutheran, a college teacher and department head. She has taught a variety of English and creative-writing classes for the last 20 years.