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
There is so much to connect with, to ponder and take away from this short but powerful gospel. While Christ uses a Socratic Q&A technique to develop his message, he is clearly not just a sweet talking philosopher or a magic making prophet. He is something very different. Peter comes up just short of proclaiming the full divinity of Jesus, naming him: the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Anyone who preaches the gospel can find great comfort in Jesus’ reply to Peter: You are blessed…because no person taught you that. My Father in heaven showed you who I am. And so it is with all of us. Amazing grace will lead us home. No biblical scholar, no stem-winding orator ever brought a single soul to salvation. It is solely the grace of God that illuminates and attracts. We are, at best, all flawed vessels of the word. And that’s OK. Peter made himself open. And so should we. God’s grace does the rest…for Peter and for all of us.
Jesus then anticipates his coming sacrifice and makes provision for apostolic succession. What follows are some of the most controversial words in the Bible… words that have been argued and fought over for centuries, producing martyrs of every stripe of Christianity, tragically laid low by brother Christians.
The heart of the matter is that we are in the world, but not of the world. We bring our worldly baggage and distortions to reading God’s word. The word “church” is used only twice in the gospels and never in an institutional, hierarchical, architectural or proprietary context. Like Peter responding to God’s grace, “church” means those who are called. As Jesus later explains: “…if two or three people come together in my name, I am there with them.” Mt 18:20
Once again, Jesus addresses Peter, his flawed “everyman.” Peter, like each of us, is the beloved of God, the heir to his kingdom. Our gathering of believers, our church, dedicated to St. Peter, is an outpost of God’s kingdom on earth. The keys to that kingdom, so prominent on our parish coat of arms, is the grace of God. It inspired Peter and inspires us today as we gather together to praise God and serve our neighbor. Truly, in God’s grace: You are blessed…