Matthew 16:13-20 NRSVue
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.,
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Some thoughts on this scripture
No Gospel text has been scrutinised more carefully than this, because it describes Jesus founding a church, and giving primacy to Peter. Let me imagine myself in that setting, under the cliff-face in Caesarea Philippi, as Jesus asks his momentous question: /Who do you say that I am?/ Suddenly the dimensions of his mission expand. He is handing over to us (the ecclesia, or people of God) the task of continuing his mission. We are not, as is sometimes phrased, /followers of the church./ We are the church, served by bishops and others, but with our own wisdom.
Notice the big change in this conversation of Jesus with Peter. No longer would the law of the Jewish scriptures be the norm; the new community with its leader, Peter, could decide on what of the law could be retained and what could be loosened. Immediately Jesus speaks of his own suffering and death. Is this not a positive statement that the person of Jesus, not the law of the past, would be the centre of the new community? The words of Jesus are important because they are the Word of God, Jesus Christ, present now in his new community.
Peter's faith, like ours, is a gift. His belief in Jesus has been revealed from above. Faith in God is the rock on which the rest of Jesus' community will stand, and this rock is what our faith stands on. Peter, and now the church, opens the door of the revelation of God to God's people and to the world. During our lives, our faith can grow, develop or get stuck. Many people seem to try to live from a faith that has not grown since their schooldays. Some continue to pray in a way that is too simple for the complexities of life, or live with an image of a fearful and punishing God. Instead of growing in faith, there are many who have given up faith in a false God, false ways of prayer, and simplistic answers to big questions. Faith is a gift that needs nourishing. The God of Jesus Christ is the living God and the God who loves all that lives, the One we meet in prayer.
Am I open to Jesus' question "Who do *you* say that I am?" This text has been used so often for apologetic purposes that it is hard to recapture the drama, the uncertain silence, that must have followed Jesus' question. He wondered what they would say, and wonders what I say to the same question. Peter confirmed Jesus' growing sense of his vocation and role.
Lord, I linger with this question: what are you to me?