The Gospel passage for this week (Matt. 16:13-20) contains quite a few rabbit trails on which clergy can and have gone on numerous adventures. One could easily focus on Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, the foundation of the church, the spiritual battle with against the gates of hell, or the ever-popular giving of the “keys of the kingdom” to Peter. Each of those items is worth time and discussion. However, if we lose the context in which they are found, we will likely miss something. Andin a tradition that doesn’t just read the Gospel lesson, this week’s lectionary provides yet another angle from which to consider Matthew’s gospel.
Each of the Synoptic Gospels locates Peter’s confession somewhere between one of Jesus’ feeding miracles and the Transfiguration. Up to this point, the disciples and others have seen Jesus perform miracles and heard him teach, but no one really knew who or what Jesus was. Although Jesus wasn’t exactly hiding, he did not fully reveal himself until Peter, James, and John are with him on the Mount of Transfiguration. That Peter makes the connection that Jesus is the Son of Man, the Son of God, and the long-awaited Christ is truly a gift of faith given to him by God. Jesus says as much in Matt. 16:17. Here is the turning point in Matthew’s gospel, just before the high point of God’s revelation to mankind on the Mount. It is this confession which provides the immediate context for the next few verses. But before we get there, what about those other lectionary passages?
Isaiah 51 begins with a call to all people who seek salvation, directing us to consider the God who founded and grew the nation of Israel from a single man named Abraham. But Isaiah wants us to not only remember what God has done, but what he promises to do. He will indeed provide the salvation we long for, but not through anything that is a part of creation or bound by it (v.6). Similarly, Paul is also looking both backwards and forward in the end of Romans 11 when he considers salvation and the future of Israel, marveling at how God has imprisoned all of us in disobedience such that deliverance can only be through him. Ultimately, Paul mimics Isaiah and declares that everything has its source and its end in God.
Between Isaiah and Paul, Peter’s confession and the establishment of the church find their place. God gives Peter that the awareness of Christ as the source of the salvation and hope for the world. This confession and revelation, that Jesus is the Christ, is offered back Peter (and the church) as the foundation of a faith that cannot be overcome by any physical or spiritual forces. It is with this revelation that Christ entrusts Peter and shares with him the administration of binding and loosing (the “you” here is singular). Later, we see this administration in action in Acts 10 regarding what can be eaten and Acts 15 regarding the requirements for Gentile believers.
All of these readings have Jesus as the promised Messiah and Savior as their primary connecting theme. Let us therefore join the Psalmist this week who gives thanks and praise to the God who loves us and glorifies his name and Word above all things.