August 21, 2005 - Pentecost +14

Matthew 16:13-20

 13 After that Jesus came to Caesarea Philippi. He asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of man is?" 14 They said, "For some of them you are John the Baptist, for others Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

15 Jesus asked them, "But you, who do you say I am?" 16 Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." 17 Jesus replied, "It is well for you, Simon Bar­jona, for it is not flesh or blood that has revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.

18 And now I say to you: You are Peter (or Rock) and on this rock I will build my Church; and never will the powers of death overcome it.

19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what you unbind on earth shall be unbound in heaven."

20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

= = =
Notes from [The Community Christian Bible

• 13. One parable of the kingdom of God already foretold the Church (Mt 13:31-33). This present text openly refers to the Church:

  • it tells us what its foundation is: faith in Jesus, the Christ and Son of God;
  • it focuses on the primacy of Peter among all the apostles;
  • it suggests that the Church will always need a visible head. This is the successor of Peter, the pope.

Faith in the Son of God, which Peter, among the apostles is the first to proclaim, really comes from God. This faith is not a human opinion, or a sentimental attachment. It does not come from flesh and blood, an expression that for the Jews meant what is purely human, what a human being does and understands by his own capacity. The words with which Jesus greets Peter, happy are you, Simon, are true for all the believers. For it is the Father who has chosen us and has brought us to Christ: see John 6:37; 6:44.

Next the primacy of Peter is emphasized. His name was Simon, but Jesus gave him this surname of Rock, foreseeing that he would be for his Church a foundation rock (Jn 1:40). This change of his name attests that a mission is given to him as happened to Abraham and Jacob (Gen 17:5 and 32:19). Other texts attest to the leadership and faith of Peter: Mt 10:2; 14:28; 17:25; Lk 5:8-10; 22:32; Jn 6:68; 21:15-19.

Is what Jesus tells Peter true also of his successors? No one can deny that even in the Old Testament God wanted his people to have a visible head. Jerusalem and the nation had as their center the Temple and the kings, sons of David. When God chose David, the first king of Israel, he promised him that his sons would rule the Kingdom of God forever: this promise was fulfilled in Christ. Now Jesus chooses Peter to be forever the visible foundation of the building. In the future his successors will be for the Church, what Peter was in the early Church.

For the Jews, to bind and to unbind (v. 19) meant to state what is forbidden and what is allowed. So Peter and his successors will have the last word about what is, or is not, the faith of the Church. The history of the primitive Church shows that already in the first centuries the local churches were conscious of the supreme authority of the bishop of Rome, successor of Peter. His role could not but develop in the course of history, which was all the more necessary because of the growing tensions between Christians, and diverse continents and cultures endlessly divided in their religious expressions. In spite of the fact that as humans Peter's successors can commit mistakes, Christ does not ignore what they ultimately decide on: whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.

The recognition of this mission of Peter's successor, however, does not mean that his word drowns all other voices in a silent Church, or that his authority justifies a structure that might crush life.

This text does not contradict other statements of the Gospel that are equally important, where the basis of the Church is a "college" of apostles, where nothing is done without dialogue. Peter is the "door keeper" (Mk 13:34) but he is neither "master" nor "Father" (Mt 23:9).

His authority is only genuine in a Church where all have the right to express themselves, where the leaders are not only imposed, but also accepted.

The powers of death (v. 18). The text says "the gates of Hades." "Gates" here signifies "Power"; as for Hades, it designates the nether­world, the world of the dead and demonic powers. Even if deathly strength tried to crush the Church, or sow there the seed of corruption it would not be prevented from accomplishing its mission of salvation. A part of Revelation (Rev 12–17) depicts such a confrontation.

The fact that Peter is the foundation of the Church does not contradict other verses that say that its  basis is the Twelve Apostles (Eph 2:20 and Rev 21:14). They also receive the power to bind or loose in John 20:21, but in this case it refers clearly to the forgiveness of sins.

Upon reading the narratives in Mk 8:27 and Lk 9:18, some questions regarding Peter's faith arise: see commentary on Lk 9:18.

Jesus, Rock and Foundation: Mk 12:10; 1 Cor 3:11; 1 P 2:6.

= = = = = = =
Comments by Wesley

1. What we know, deep in our bones, that others may not yet get, is very important. It directs our attention and filters our responses. And so a daily question regarding the state of our soul may be phrased: "What do you know, that others don't need to affirm for the moment, that give you strength for your journey?" Figuring out what is in your "deep heart's core" is critical to well-being.

2. What you need to affirm is not what everyone needs to affirm. There are a variety of gifts given, received, and applied. So we don't measure ourselves against one another but how we are doing in applying the wisdom given us to the common good. This will include listening to be able to identify and work with other understandings moving toward that same goal.

3. Presuming that folks have been witnessed to by the disciples who already somewhere deep within knew that Jesus was the Messiah, Child of the Living GOD, how is it that those witnessed to were still talking about John, Elijah, or Jeremiah? Had the disciples accommodated what they had to say to the natural inclination of folks and not clearly drawn their picture of Jesus? How are you doing with witnessing? Folks know what you are doing and saying, but do they understand what is behind your behavior and your words?

It may be that Jesus has noted the behavior of the disciples and decided on this socratic questioning process as a way for them to clarify their motivations. Even though Jesus "orders" them to not talk about their revelation, it must be asked whether any of us can act contrary to our basic orientation of life for very long. After this, can the disciples do anything other than have their witness transformed toward a revealing of what they were asked to not reveal?

Sermon Index | wesleyspace Home