The “villages of Caesarea Philippi” have Jewish residents in the shadow of a town built by the empire. Surely prophets spoke to the people about the empires surrounding them, but they addressed the values and concerns of the people themselves.
– Kate Huey
The readings for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles cycle A can be found here.
The scripture scholar will tell you that in all four Gospels only Matthew uses the word Church, and only twice. The word Church is in our reading this Sunday (Matthew 16:18) and, for those who are dying to know, in Matthew 18:17. Today the word Church carries with it meanings that could refer to a building, a hierarchy, or a large organization of people. When Matthew used the word Church it was understood differently. Based upon the Greek word (ekklesia), Church meant an assembly or congregation of believers.
Aside from that bit of trivia, the Gospel verses for this Sunday are known as Peter’s Confession. This is where we hear the legend of how Peter received his name. This is also where Peter steps up to become a leader for the congregation of believers. By one simple act of speaking up, rather than being silent, Peter was transformed.
We read backwards through the lens of historic creeds and well-developed christologies, and Christian faith confirms Peter’s answer is the truth about Jesus. But according to Matthew, the answer is a matter of Peter’s discernment of divine revelation and not obvious to “flesh and blood.”
– Marilyn Salmon
By the time Matthew’s Gospel was written there were many congregations of believers already. Because the second temple had already been destroyed these congregations were spread out across the known world of the time. Matthew’s congregation was in the midst of a struggle with the synagogue where they worshiped. Before long, if it hadn’t already happened, the congregation would be kicked out of the synagogue and leadership would be an important factor in their success. Peter saw what nobody else could see. It was not obvious simply by looking at the physical person that Jesus was the messiah. It required insights of revelation and courage of convictions to make the confession. Abiding by his conscience Peter could not be silent. As a result he is then given the commission of leadership and binding authority.
Peter and the church of Matthew are told that nothing will prevail against them: not the Romans and the Jews who are persecuting them, not their own infighting and not even the gates of death. The church will survive and forgiveness and justice will be loosed in the world. We are given courage to stand and endure faithfully.
– Megan McKenna
Charlie Parker, legendary musician, was famous for saying: “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” Our congregations of believers must lead through the example of Peter. The simple act of speaking our conscience can begin a ripple through all those we meet.
It wasn’t only Peter who was given authority, but all the disciples. This brings the authority to us, because we are the modern day disciples of Jesus. We are the new rock. We lead by example. Faith has given us the courage to build the kingdom of heaven on earth. It will be shaped by the way we live it.
The spiritual traditions do not deny the reality of the outer world. They simply claim that we help make that world by projecting our spirit on it, for better or for worse. If our institutions are rigid, it is because our hearts fear change; if they set us in mindless competition with each other, it is because we value victory over all else; if they are heedless of human well-being, it is because something in us is heartless as well.
– Parker Palmer
If you take one thing away from this homily; be fearless as Peter was fearless. Look beyond the human things to see the divine and then set your mind on those divine things. Jesus taught us to be humble, love our neighbors and to embrace change. We need to examine our lives and how we shape heaven on earth.
I have one last prayer for us, and those we hold up as leaders in our congregations of believers.
This is the rock of the Church that was also a stumbling block, one who denied his Master, even cursing him. But he learned forgiveness and mercy at the hands of his Master and was made leader in the Church in the place of Jesus to go look for the lost sheep and care for the flock in unity. Let us pray for leaders who learn forgiveness and mercy intent on the unity of the Church and also aware of the world and those who wait for the Good News in missionaries sent forth from the community.