‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church’

Twenty-first Sunday of the Year A

When Peter responds to the question that all Christians must answer, his profession of faith is followed by mission. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.

Matthew 16:13-20

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ 14 And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15 ‘But you,’ he said, ‘who do you say I am?’ 16 Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said, ‘the Son of the living God.’ 17 Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. 18 So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’ 20 Then he gave the disciples strict orders not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

Other readings: Isaiah 22:19-23 Psalm 137 (138) Romans 11:33-36


All the gospels, and the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) in particular, witness to the growth in faith of the disciples of Jesus. In the synoptic gospels a point of climax is reached when Jesus asks his disciples the question: ‘Who do you say I am?’ It is a question which all Christians must answer.

Peter speaks up and declares his belief, perhaps also shared by the others, that Jesus is the promised Messiah. What is special in Matthew’s story of Peter’s profession of faith is the commissioning of Peter which follows. Faith leads to a mission.

The words of Jesus to Peter ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church’ have been understood as the basis for the special role of the bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, in relation to the whole church. In their varying ways each of the gospels testifies to the leadership role of Peter. The words of Jesus to Peter in Matthew’s gospel are words of assurance, for it is Christ who will build the Church and Christ who endows Peter with authority.

The reading ends with Jesus instructing the disciples to tell nobody he was the Christ. The title of ‘Christ’ or ‘Messiah’ was understood in various ways, and Jesus had reservations that he might be misunderstood as a worldly leader. The true role of the Messiah will be taken up again in next Sunday’s gospel reading.

In the second reading St Paul praises the providential wisdom of God.

What is the role of Jesus the Messiah in my understanding?

What does it mean to say that Jesus founded the Church?

We pray for the Pope that he may show the wisdom and love of Christ in all his actions.

We pray that the Church may be a place of welcome, hope and encouragement for all.

INT-IMG_5349 Fr Adrian Graffy (3)Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.

Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”

He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”

Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).

Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy