Thursday, August 4, 2011

Matthew 16:13-23 Peter is able to see Christ for who he really is

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
and he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Then he strictly ordered his disciples
to tell no one that he was the Christ.
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,
“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
He turned and said to Peter,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

This reading sheds some light on the way people perceived Jesus in his time. Here Matthew identifies the crowd as saying Jesus is "John the Baptist, Elijah, and Jeremiah or one of the prophets".   John the Baptist, according to Raymond Brown, was likely someone who worked closely with Jesus. Jesus in the Gospel of John works side by side with the Baptist and so his confusion with the Baptist points to the idea that John the Baptist is more popular than Jesus. His confusion with John the Baptist may also point to the absence of John the Baptist in this time period helping us date this question. Elijah is an important prophet who the Israelite people would have been familiar with who played an influential role in the faith life of the community. Noting other prophets indicates that Jesus is someone who the people thought was counter cultural. Every prophet is met with hostility because they proclaim the word of God which is often at odds with the contemporary culture of their time. All three titles point to Jesus as being someone who is valued by the people and who brings with him the word of God. The presence of this passage in all four gospels points to this as being rooted in a historical event.

The next major section of this text is Peter's identification of Jesus as the Christ. Here Peter is given the role of identifying Jesus' true identity. For this he receives the keys to the kingdom. Peter's clarity contrasts the disciples inability to comprehend Jesus' identity. This passage likely points to the importance of Peter in the early Christian communities and highlights him as being someone who has been destined to take a leadership role in the Church. Peter's inability to recognize Jesus' need to suffer and die reminds us that God's ways are unlike ours. Jesus is not simply someone who will restore order to the kingdom through revolution, he will restore the kingdom by being a suffering servant.

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