|We've heard the gospel
passage from today’s liturgy many, many times. And I’m certain that all
of us are very familiar with the words Jesus spoke to Peter, “You are rock
and on this rock I will build my church.” Then Jesus goes on to say, “I
will give you the keys to the kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth, will
be bound on heaven and whatever you unbind, will be unbound in heaven.”
Probably, for most of
us, we think of that passage in terms of what has happened within the church.
We have come to understand what Jesus said to Peter as applying only to
the pope. In fact, if you have ever been to Rome, to St. Peter’s Basilica,
the huge dome that is a masterpiece of architecture up at the top, you
will see encircling the inside portion of the dome this passage quoted
in letters that are at least two feet high: Thou art Peter and upon
this rock I will build my church. We immediately think of the pope.
But actually, it’s important
for us to realize that this interpretation was late in the history of the
church. It wasn’t until the fourth century that anyone applied those words,
not just to Peter, but to the pope and, also, that the pope had this total
authority within the church. Even after the fourth century, until the end
of the nineteenth century of the First Vatican Council, this kind of teaching
was made very prominent. And for the next hundred years within the church,
the papacy became a very centralized and a very controlling part of the
Then in 1965, at the
end of the Second Vatican Council, there was an attempt to correct what
had become a distortion. And it’s easy to understand why we needed correction.
If you read further on in Matthew’s gospel, you find Jesus saying to all
the disciples and to the whole community, “I say to you, whatever you bind
on earth, heaven will keep bound and whatever you unbind on earth, heaven
will keep unbound.” So it’s to the whole community that Jesus really
addressed those words.
And the teaching that
we received from the Second Vatican Council helps to give more balance
to the passage that we hear today.
As you recall, one of
the major teachings of that council was that every person in the church,
every one of us, is equal in freedom and dignity. We’re a whole community
of disciples of Jesus, equal in freedom and dignity. And, in fact, there
was a great stress placed on what we call collegiality. That the
church works together--especially among the bishops of the whole world.
It’s a college of bishops that is given oversight over the whole church,
not just one person. That’s a very important corrective that we need to
take into account as we try to understand better what Jesus is teaching
An earlier interpretation
of this passage was that Peter was really being presented in a typological
way. Peter was like a model for us, an example of every Christian.
And so what Jesus was saying to every one of us is, “You are rock and on
your faith is the foundation of the whole church; not just on Peter, but
all of us.”
Now, I think that’s a
very important understanding and I’m sure that many of us would feel a
certain privilege and even a kind of building up of our dignity to realize
that everyone of us was being spoken to by Jesus -- that you are rock and
on this rock I will build my whole church. But, even as we accept
this call from Jesus, it’s important to try to understand the implications
of what that means for every one of us.
First of all, it means,
I think, that we have a responsibility within our community of faith. Ask
yourself: Why do you come to church on Sunday? For many of
us, it’s obligation. I think not so much here at this community, but for
many people, it is still obligation. We think we owe something to
God and so we have to come. But if we really understand who we are
as disciples of Jesus, as those in whom faith has been given as a gift
and on whom the foundation of our community depends, then we might begin
to understand that it’s important to come to church, to celebrate together
-- because we have to share our faith with one another.
As I come here and celebrate
with all of you, I’m enriched and my faith is deepened and strengthened.
And that is the same for every one of us. If we miss, then we’re
not giving to our community. We have a real responsibility to share
the gift of faith that God has given us. By coming together and celebrating
that faith together, we build up God’s church.
And so I think that’s
the first thing we ought to realize. That when we come together to
celebrate, and as one who has been called to be the rock of faith, we share
our gift. When we come and we receive from others, we strengthen
our whole community.
But then also, I think,
as we reflect on this, we can begin to understand better what faith means.
Consider for instance
when Peter was gifted by God and was able to say to Jesus, “You are the
Christ, the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Before that, Peter had
only recognized Jesus as one like us in every way, a fellow human being.
Suddenly, he received the insight that this is God. Now that didn’t
change his relationship to Jesus on the human level and we need that in
faith, all of us. We need to have the kind of faith that Peter demonstrates
in today’s gospel, where he knows Jesus as a friend, he knows Jesus as
a fellow human person and he knows Jesus also though as the son of God.
If we can come to know
Jesus more deeply as one like us, as a human, our faith will grow and we
will be enriched by the friendship we can develop with Jesus-- just as
You know, Peter had a
very special relationship with Jesus. Shortly before the passage
that we heard today, Jesus was rebuking Peter -- oh you of little faith
-- because Peter had started to trust in Jesus and then stopped. But Jesus
could rebuke him and Peter could respond in a very human way. And
later on, after today’s passage, Peter feels bold enough to criticize Jesus.
The trust that is between the two of them is so strong that Peter is not
afraid to criticize. You have to have a deep friendship before you
can do that. And Jesus speaks back to Peter even kind of harshly.
But they had such a trusting friendship that they could interact that way.
And that’s what we need
to develop within our own prayer life; that kind of understanding of Jesus
as someone who can really be our friend. He can know us and accept us and
Earlier this week, when
we were celebrating the funeral liturgy for Mrs. Christine Lett, it occurred
to me that one of the most beautiful things about our relationship with
Jesus is how, in the gospel of John, Jesus is depicted as weeping at the
tomb of his friend Lazarus. He broke down in grief. When you experience
death, it can be very hard. People come and they often don’t really
know what to say. Or if we go to comfort somebody else, it’s again
is hard to know what to say. But it’s important to know that when
you interact with someone who understands what you are going through, it
can be very strengthening.
And if we really know
Jesus, we know how he can strengthen us in that way because we know he
understands what it is to lose someone very close that you love.
That’s why we sometimes
sing the song, ‘What a friend we have in Jesus.’ He knows us and
he understands us. But we have to deepen that relationship to make
it really happen. Yet, at the same time, like Peter, when we get the gift
of faith, we can declare that Jesus, this one who is our friend, “Yes,
you are the son of the living God.” And if we really accept that
part of who Jesus is, then of course there are further implications for
us. If we really believe that Jesus is the son of God, then every
word he speaks comes from God.
So when he tells us some
of those hard things about ‘loving your enemy’ and ‘doing good to those
who hurt you,’ it seems so unreal. And yet it’s the son of God who tells
us that. The son of God who says, “You will never achieve peace in the
world through violence.” The son of God who says, “The only way to
bring peace is through justice and through love and compassion and forgiveness.”
It’s the son of God who is saying those things.
Our faith compels us
to struggle to understand what Jesus is saying and to follow it no matter
how radical and how hard it seems to be. If we understand Jesus and
know Jesus as one like us in every way, but also son of God, then we will
struggle to follow what he tells us. Sometimes, it may be as St. Paul says,
“We don’t understand. It’s all a mystery.” But it’s God who
is the mystery and, somehow, in God we find comfort and compassion and
love and the strength to follow the way of Jesus.
This morning then, as
we reflect on today’s gospel lesson, I hope that we will, each of us, experience
more deeply the call that we have, each of us, the call to faith, just
like Peter’s call. And we will realize that Jesus is saying to each of
us that you are rock and your faith is the foundation for the whole church,
for our whole community. And if we understand that and accept that
and pray to God that we will be able to grow in this faith, then as a community
we will really begin to carry out the work that Jesus came to do and transform
this world into as close an image of the reign of God as possible.
Pray for that gift of
faith, today. Pray that each of us can be a faithful disciple of
Jesus, who can know Jesus as our friend and who also can proclaim, “You
are the Christ, the son of the living God.”
In the name of the Father and
of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.