August 23, 2020
Sunday Between August 21 and August 27 Inclusive
Proper 16, Ordinary Time 21
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Matthew 16:13-20, The Message or Matthew 16:13-20, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
Interestingly, this pivotal passage occurs outside of the "home turf" of Jesus and his followers, in the district of Caesarea Philippi north of Galilee.
Jesus has been traveling about doing signs, teaching and healing. This has resulted in crowds being drawn to him. It is now time to do some assessing.
Notice Jesus begins with the more general and moves to the specific: first with the crowds, then with his followers. What's the gossip about me? What are the crowds saying? What honour / status / reputation are they attributing to me? The disciples name several prophets and holy men of Israel - they are saying you are - or are like - a prophet or holy man.
But what about you my closest associates?
This is a challenging question. It is direct and it puts Jesus and his followers on the spot - a potentially embarrassing spot if their answer is: "We don't think that much of you actually." Everything hangs on what their answer is.
Simon speaks for the group: "You are the Christ / the Anointed One / the Messiah (These three terms are all translations of the same Greek word.), the Son of God."
This affirmation by Simon is not just a formal statement of intellectual belief. It is a statement of an intimate relationship between Jesus and God, and between Jesus and his followers.
This statement reveals what up till then had been an unstated, organic process: the developing awareness of Jesus' followers and their bonding with him in his mission / ministry / identity.
This is not the sort of thing that ordinary human thinking could figure out.
The confirmation of this revelation from "my Father in Heaven," then also brings with it the blessings, privileges, and authority that come with being in such a relationship. Jesus had these as God's Son; now Peter and the others have these as true disciples of the Messiah.
Unfortunately, the Lectionary leaves out the scriptural context for this transformational revelation:
- "You of little faith" that came before in Verse 8; and
- "Get behind me, Satan! (Addressed to Peter) You are a stumbling block to me." that comes after in Verse 23.
The Lectionary gives us the beatific visions of the disciples divine affirmation (Chapter 16, verses 13-20) and the Transfiguration (Chapter 17, verses 1-13), but omits these tales of the disciples human failures. I personally find these stories comforting because if THEY could be disciples, maybe I could be too.
(Aside: And, ironically, the fact that such humbling / dishonourable stories are told by the disciples about themselves lends credibility to the Biblical eye witnesses.)
And even more problematic, the Lectionary separates Verses 13-20 from Verses 21-23, the first of three occasions of Jesus showing his disciples that he must go up to Jerusalem, suffer, be killed, and on the third day be raised.
If we want the transformational bonding with Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God, we also can't avoid bonding with Jesus the Crucified One.
Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, see below, pages 86-87.
Matthew 16:13-20 (NRSV)
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" 14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." 17 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. 18 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. 19 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." 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Matthew 16:13-20 (The Message)
13 When Jesus arrived in the villages of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "What are people saying about who the Son of Man is?"
14 They replied, "Some think he is John the Baptizer, some say Elijah, some Jeremiah or one of the other prophets."
15 He pressed them, "And how about you? Who do you say I am?"
16 Simon Peter said, "You're the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
17 Jesus came back, "God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah! You didn't get that answer out of books or from teachers. My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am. 18 And now I'm going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.
19 "And that's not all. You will have complete and free access to God's kingdom, keys to open any and every door: no more barriers between heaven and earth, earth and heaven. A yes on earth is yes in heaven. A no on earth is no in heaven."
20 He swore the disciples to secrecy. He made them promise they would tell no one that he was the Messiah.
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.