Matthew 16:13-20 Romans 12:1-8
Eleventh Sunday after Trinity.
In an attempt to find some space to relax during my holidays, I picked up a new book and began to read what seemed to be a kind of detective story. It turned out to be something of a ‘Da Vinci Code’ kind of book: a quest of some sort, for some buried ‘treasure’ or clue as to a certain identity. All a bit vague, I admit, and as I progressed in the book, I became more and more frustrated with it. At times, I was tempted to throw it down, but there was still a tiny part of my mind that wanted to know the end, whether they’d come to their senses. We all like to know that, of any story, I guess.
The reason why I became frustrated with it was because of the references it made to the Bible that were so clearly false and taken out of context, that they began to be irritating rather than exciting. One thing was that it claimed to find the keys that Jesus had given to Peter… literally the physical keys that Peter received… As if they had indeed been some actual keys that would open the kingdom of heaven..! No wonder I could be found muttering from time to time as I read, ‘what utter nonsense!’ and that’s the sanitised version…
But the keys that the Bible talks about are of course symbolic. As in Isaiah 22 verse 22, ‘the key of the house of David’, the keys that Jesus talks about are a symbol of authority. When he then says ‘whatever you bind and whatever you loose’, bind and loose are judicial terms meaning ‘forbid’ and ‘permit’. In a way, Jesus is using images and parable type of language, as he does so often. So we can safely assume that when Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter, which means ‘rock’, he didn’t literally turn Peter into stone!
The whole episode about the rock, on which Jesus is to build his church, and the keys of the kingdom of heaven, comes after Peter has answered Jesus’ question as to who the disciples thought he was. It wasn’t a trick question. It wasn’t an attempt to quiz the disciples or let them take an exam. It was, rather, to see how far they’d come in understanding the healings and other miracles as pointers to his identity. How they understood the context of Jesus’ ministry. Also, it gave Jesus the opportunity to warn them not to begin proclaiming Jesus as Messiah before the time was right to do so. For there was still some important work to be done and Jesus couldn’t risk the disciples jumping the gun.
Jesus is going to build a new community; not an actual building or Temple, like the one in the background of the story. But like the wise man who built his house on the rock in the parable Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is reconstructing a new community, not of stone, but of all who recognise Jesus as God’s anointed one. The state of justice and peace that God is looking to form, will come about through faithful allegiance between Jesus and his followers. The work of building God’s Church begins with the instruction of Peter and, with it, a new perspective of his future, hence his new name. The beautiful message is that if we see the whole picture and keep it all in context, we can also see how our own perspective and our lives are made new through seeing Jesus. Being a Christian is not a quest to find an actual key of some sort, but rather knowing that we have been found, by God himself, and made partakers and residents of his new kingdom. We’ll often get it wrong – Peter did too. We’re a bunch of forgiven sinners. But our past does not define us; our future does. And that is really key.. Amen.