(for the Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost, August 24, 2014)
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And 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. And 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. I 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.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. (Matthew 16:13-20, NRSV).
There is speculation regarding Jesus. His thought-provoking teaching, the healing power emanating from his hands, the authoritative casting out of the demons. People talk when such things occur. They wonder. They postulate.
Our conversation begins in relatively safe territory: ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’
Representing the plethora of opinions Jesus has spawned is easy: ‘John the Baptist’, ‘Elijah’, ‘Jeremiah’ ‘one of the prophets’. People struggle to grasp this travelling teacher and healer. The common denominator here is prophetic. Jesus reminds many of the ancient holy men.
But then Jesus personalises the question: ‘But who do you say that I am?’
This is fundamentally different. The stakes are significantly higher. The disciples are the ones closest to Jesus. They know him better. They witnessed more. Simon Peter is something of a team captain, a spokesman. He is known for getting it wrong.
This time, however, Peter is right: ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ He is finally living up to his Jesus-given name: ‘Rock’. Rockie’s answer is a foundation on which Jesus can build his hell resistant, key-carrying, community.
I wonder if Peter is proud of his answer. Does his insight go to his head? Is the power to bind and loose in heaven and earth too much for this fragile ego?
If so, Jesus has put in safeguards. He reminds – no tells – Peter that this precious insight extends not from from his own insight – but from heaven itself.
To be sure Peter stuck by Jesus and sometimes made good and wise observations. He assessed well. But this precious insight is nothing more – or less – that the reigning down of heaven’s priceless blessing. It is the gift of God, the Father, who is at work among in these hearts, dwelling with this tiny community.
Do your homework on Jesus; make your observations; ask boldly your questions. Sometimes you will be right. At other times wrong. Know, however, that in all this the Spirit of God is at work. You do not search alone. We seek for one who wants to be found. We inquire of one who desires to be known.
And that is a truly wonderful thought for any God-seeker.