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Who Do YOU Say He is?

by Susan Adams

The relief of St. Peter at St Peter's church, Radovljica, Slovenia.

Have you noticed that it can be difficult to talk about Jesus, sometimes even with other believers? Maybe especially with other believers? Many of us can quote “The Good Confession” that Peter utters in response to Jesus’ question in our text today:


Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"

And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but 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 Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matt 16:13-16)


As an overachiever, I can easily imagine how good Peter felt to get that answer 100% correct. He totally nailed it! Gold stars and bonus points to Peter! And at first, when Jesus begins with “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona” the other disciples must have been ready to high five him, but then Jesus says,


"...flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”


Um, ok, that’s still cool, right? So the disciples must have still been smiling, feeling like they were doing well in the Jesus Discipleship Advanced Degree Program, when things take an unexpected turn into the weird:


I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.


Um, what? Wait, WHAT?!?! And after dropping this life-altering bomb, Jesus seems to have abruptly ended the announcement with a warning not to tell anyone He was the Christ.


So, let’s imagine what happened next because mercifully, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the Scriptures are silent here in Matthew’s gospel. Let’s picture the moment after Jesus issues the warning and leaves the scene. If you are Peter, you have SO MANY questions, right? Did Jesus just heap a ton of responsibility and maybe some power on your scrawny shoulders? Yikes! And did Jesus have to be so poetic about it? Maybe He could have explained what He meant about the church being built on this rock (this Peter?) and all the stuff about Hades trying to attack it?


If you are one of the other disciples, you might have gasped aloud, thinking, “PETER is the dude you are choosing? Do you even know what a hot tempered twerp he is, Lord?” Or “Oh, man, Peter is going to think he is the Pope or something and try to boss all of us around. Sheesh!” Or maybe this one, which might come from an Englewood person: “Um, Lord, were you talking to all of us when you mentioned those keys to the Kingdom, or did you only mean to give them to Peter? Somebody check that “you” pronoun! Which one did Jesus use?”


And if you know even a little church history, you know that Christians have been squabbling about these things for two thousand years which is pretty heartbreaking. We humans too easily get caught up in power grabs, power plays, and culture control issues which distract us from a couple of other things Jesus reveals here.


The first big thing is that Jesus affirms Peter’s statement that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. This new reality is going to change everything for everyone. It really is the most important statement in this passage, but interestingly almost nothing is said here in the text about what that means in that moment or what it might mean in the coming days. Hmm.


The second thing is that Jesus says that Peter has been given the keys (I checked, folks, and it is 2nd person singular, not plural, which means Jesus was speaking directly to Peter) and that whatever he binds on earth will have been bound in heaven and whatever he might loose will have been loosed in heaven. And again, no explanation or unpacking is provided here in the text, so for centuries Christians have been arguing about what this does or does not mean here on earth (with almost no attention to what binding and loosing means in heaven). Who exactly is in charge here anyway? we wonder.


I propose that we contemplate not the power stuff, not whether the keys were real or only metaphorical, not whether Peter was or should have been the first pope, not whether Peter is waiting for the faithful holding those keys at the Pearly Gates. No. We are not likely to crack those mysteries to everyone’s satisfaction. Instead let’s think together about what it means for us and for the world that Jesus took on flesh as the Christ, came as the complete expression of the Father, showed us new ways to love one another and has gifted us with His Spirit among us. That is enough to keep us busy for the rest of our lives. We can wait with joyful confidence to be surprised by whatever God has waiting for us afterward. Let us keep walking together in the light and love of Jesus and His coming Kingdom.

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