August 21, 2011
It looked like it was going to be Peter’s best day ever. He didn’t usually get that kind of praise from Jesus. And I’m not even sure Jesus started out meaning to ask that second question. The first one was simple enough. Who do the people think I am? What was the buzz, what were the people saying about him? But when he asked it, maybe he realized that the real question was not what the people were thinking, but what the disciples were thinking. “Who do you say that I am?” He was getting down and personal with the disciples, not asking for analysis, but for something far more personal.
And Jesus seemed pleasantly surprised, when Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God.” “Good answer, Peter.” “These guys may be paying more attention that I thought,” Jesus might well have said to himself. “That’s good Peter, but I’m pretty sure you didn’t come up with that on your own. It’s something God revealed to you. And let me tell you this. Peter, you know your name means rock, and you are going to be the rock on which the church is built. You rock, man! You are going to keep the movement going. You will get the keys to the kingdom. What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. What you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
I’m not sure Peter knew what that all meant, but he had to be feeling pretty good about himself. He was literally being praised to high heaven. That didn’t happen much to Peter.
Things, though, took a rather dramatic and quick turnabout. Maybe Peter was feeling a bit too taken with himself. Maybe he thought this was all some kind of test and he liked getting the answers right for once. But do you remember what happened next in the story?
Jesus said, “Yes, you guys are beginning to figure this out. So now it’s time to go to Jerusalem where the Son of Humanity will be turned over to the authorities, killed, and on the third day rise again.”
“Are you out of your mind,” Peter responded. “Jesus, don’t be ridiculous. Didn’t I just acknowledge you are the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God? That guy doesn’t go into Jerusalem to be killed but to take it over.” Jesus’s response was, “Get lost, Satan.”
Wow. One minute Peter’s the rock, the one with the keys to the realm of God. The next, he’s Satan. Jesus used other rock metaphors which come to mind here. Instead of the foundation stone of the church, Peter now seemed like those stumbling blocks Jesus talked about. Or do you remember the story Jesus told about the farmer who went out sewing seed and some of it fell on rocky ground? This is the same guy who jumps out of the boat and walks on water for a couple of steps and then starts to sink.
Peter’s fall was swift. But here’s the thing. Jesus did not lose confidence in him. He might be a stumbling block at times. He might be that rocky soil where the seed has a hard time taking root. But he was also the rock on which the church would be built.
It’s no secret here that Peter’s story is our story. Sometimes we are the stumbling block or the rocky soil. But it turns out that there is a bit of building block in all of us. We may not feel that way. How is God going to build a church with us? But how on earth was God going to build a church with Peter and the rest of gang Jesus hung out with? But look at us, the church is still here. God can do the most surprising things with us.
Here’s where It starts. The point of this whole thing is not figuring out what other people think about Jesus, but what we think about Jesus. Who do people say I am, and who do you say I am are completely different questions. And we can think lots of different things. But when we are answering the question for ourselves, then God has a foundation to build a church on. “We can call Jesus ‘Christ’, ‘Anointed’, ‘God’, anything we like as long as we accept that implicit in him is God’s Rule. That is the rock! Anything else ends up as a millstone! That drowns us or grinds us! If we are his Body, if we live as his Body, then God’s Rule is embodied in & among us too.” (Brian McGowen)
The best part of the story is not Peter telling Jesus who Jesus is, but Jesus telling Peter who Peter is, who we are. The building blocks of the church.
This is not me trying to convince you that you have something to bring to the church. I get this all the time. “I’m not as spiritual as everybody else.” This is Jesus who is telling us who we are, telling us that we have all kinds of things to offer just like Peter did; that rock, that stumbling block, that rocky soil.
We get the keys to the Realm. We got to loose and bind things. Jesus seems to have gotten a little carried away here or was he stating a simple fact. Once we make our claims about Jesus and he about us we are in this thing together. We are the people who make the Realm of God happen, who reveal who Jesus not simply by our confession but by how we live.
If we are following Jesus, for example, we are loosing the power of love and binding the power of evil. We are loosing the power of peace and mercy and compassion, and binding greed and hate and fear. The Realm is no longer the territory only Jesus can tread but it is what all of us are about.
Like Peter, we keep learning along the way what that all means, what needs to be loosed and what needs to be bound. We are learning what that realm is that Jesus has given us the keys to.
We won’t always get it right. We will end up binding some things that should be loosed and loosing some things that should be bound. But God can still work with us.
What do you think it means for us to have the keys to the Realm of God? What do we need to bind, and what do we need to set loose? What’s that business about keeping their mouths shut about who Jesus is?
We’ve always got to let Jesus keep asking that question, “Who do you say that I am?” Sometimes we don’t get it right. But he keeps asking, he keeps giving us the keys to the kingdom, he keeps watching us bind the things that should be bound and loosen the things that should be loosed.
And he doesn’t keep asking until we finally get it right. He keeps asking until we realize that he is always going to keep asking. Who do you say I am?