11th Sunday after Trinity at Stoke Hammond 27 August 2017
Gospel Matthew 16
Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’
14 They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’
15 ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’
16 Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
17 Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Here’s a good question for a pub quiz:
“Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherds’ warning”. Where does it come from?
2. The Bible
3. A well-known phrase of unknown origin.
Jesus quoted it at the beginning of Matthew 16:
16 The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.
2 He replied, ‘When evening comes, you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,” 3 and in the morning, “Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.” You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.
The signs of the times relate to Jesus’s miracles, like the feeding of the 5,000, the stilling of the storm, and Jesus walking on the water which were described in the chapters leading up to today’s gospel reading.
The Pharisees and Sadducees ask for their own personal sign from heaven, but Jesus tells them they can predict the weather, but cannot interpret the signs of the times. All they wanted was to test and trap him, not understand and accept who he is and what he represents.
Jesus is clearer with his followers. They have just entered the region of Caesarea Philippi, where he asks them two questions. The importance of these two questions cannot be overstated.
1. Who do people say I am?
2. Who do you say I am?
The disciples cast around for a few answers to the first. They suggest John the Baptist, Jeremiah, Elijah or one of the prophets. They know of course that all these are wrong. They have seen the signs, and in some cases understood the meaning from the lips of Jesus himself.
Shortly afterwards, at the beginning of the following chapter, Peter, James and John are invited to witness the theophany called The Transfiguration when they see Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus, so it’s clear they cannot be one and the same person. So, having dismissed the gossip, Jesus asks his followers directly who they say he is?
We don’t know their answer, except that the ever impulsive Peter jumps in:
‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
17 Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
As usual, things are not precisely as they appear. You might think Peter has come up with the perfect reply, yet this same man will go on to deny Jesus three times. Still, for the moment, the confession hangs in the air. It is the Ultimate Truth, as we who have read the gospels know full well. But Peter and the others are still finding their way. We have the benefit of hindsight. They do not.
Jesus singles out Peter, and there follows a much misquoted verse about the church and Peter’s place in it. Peter was Simon son of Jonah, before being renamed by Jesus as Cephas from the Aramaic word for stone. So he is the Rock—πεtρα in the Greek. This leads Jesus to say the church of God will be founded on this rock, and successive Popes have claimed succession by reference to this particular passage in Scripture. Or does it?
The word commonly translated “church” was rendered by early translators as more correctly meaning an “assembly” of Christians, a gathering, since at the time Jesus used the word εκκλησία there was no established church, and would not be for a long time.
Then again, Jesus could not have intended to mean that the church would be built on Peter the Rock— πεtρα is feminine—likewise εκκλησία is feminine too. You can see why there was such division between peoples during the Reformation about what this passage actually meant.
But I don’t think we need to get too diverted by theological arguments, when the question posed to the disciples is as clearly asked by Jesus of us. “Who do you say the Son of Man is?”
This question can only be answered individually, and I suppose my response is to ask myself what place Jesus holds in my life. Is it central to everything I do? Is Jesus fitted into the cracks—of the 112 waking hours in each week, how much does he occupy, not just 1 hour in the assembly of God here, but everything else too. You may like to do an audit and ask yourself whether the balance of faith and secular life is quite right? If you’re anything like me, you are probably short changing the time you spend on matters of the soul.
My time is up, but I will leave you with a reflection. On the rock Jesus has built the assembly, where we are now. It is through this assembly that we receive the keys to the Kingdom—herein lies the signs of the times. We keep our eyes on the weather forecast, and know how to interpret the look of the sky. Take a moment—take many moments in mindfulness—maintaining contact with the knowledge of the signs of the times and keeping close to God. Amen