Matthew 16:13-20 (New Revised Standard Version)
13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Devotional Questions from the ELCA’s Book of Faith Initiative:
What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text? What do I have questions about?
What delights me in this text? What do I like about it?
What stories or memories does this text stir up in me? You might remember a time when you were given a heavy responsibility, for example.
What is God up to in this text? What is God calling you to do or to be because of this story?
“With great power comes great responsibility.” –Spiderman’s Uncle Ben
Can you imagine being Peter in this reading? Not the first part, which, although miraculous in and of itself, is something that we have been taught to believe, teach, and confess, and is indeed the reason why the Gospels in the Bible were written. To me, what stands out in this reading is what flows from Peter’s confession. He gets it right, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” but instead of a pat on the head, or an A+, or an “Atta boy, Peter,” he gets a job. A tough job. With awesome responsibility. And a new identity. He goes from being Simon to being “Rocky” (that’s the English translation of the Greek word “petros.”). He becomes the rock, the foundation stone, upon which Jesus is making plans to build his church. That is responsibility enough, even on a good building site in a favorable location. Then, we learn that there will be opposition to this church. He will be the foundation stone upon which not even the gates of Hades will prevail, because Hades is moving into the neighborhood, and it’s not going to be an easy construction job. That, alone, would be enough, but, “Wait,” as Bob Barker on the Price is Right used to say, “there’s more!”
“Your confession is so spot on, my friend Rocky, that I will also give you the keys to the kingdom,” says Jesus. This is where all of the jokes that begin “St. Peter was at the pearly gates…” come from. Peter holds the keys to the kingdom, and whatever he binds on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever he looses on earth will be loosed in heaven. “Wait,” Peter must have been thinking, “you mean that whatever I say, goes? Really? Why me?” He is essentially given godly powers, and the responsibility to decide who is in and who is out. Yikes! Haven’t I always told you that I’m glad that God is God and we are not? Because God always errs on the side of grace, and life, and love? And we often err on the side of the devil, the world, and our sinful selves? Why would Jesus do this? To his best friend? To rocky old Peter?
As I write this today, I’m not sure that I have all the answers to these questions. We know from Acts of the Apostles that Peter does eventually learn, in a vision from God and interaction with others, that all are welcome in the kingdom of God, regardless of origin, race, gender, or class. We know that sometimes Peter is as dumb as a rock (remember “Get behind me, Satan!”?) or as dense as a rock (remember when he tried to walk on water?). We also know that, like a stopped clock, Peter gets it right at least a couple of times per day. God uses human beings, fragile, fallible, frustrating human beings, to be the hands and feet of God in this world. Peter was the first, and we continue in a long line until the end of time as we know it. I am looking forward to wrestling with this peculiar call story with you as we study together this month. May God continue to bless our lips, your hearts, and your hands during this season of growth!
Pastor Breen Sipes