Monday, August 22, 2011

On This Rock I Will Build My Church

Matthew 16:13-20

There are a lot of people who have fun giving ironic nicknames to others. The giant, muscular football player named Tiny. The fluffy little dog named Killer. My neighbor’s cat Pixie, who despite the cute name, has a pit bull whimpering in fear.

Jesus did something like that in today’s gospel when he made a pun on the name Peter, which means Rock. “I say to you that you are Petros, and on this petra I will build my church.” But anyone familiar with the story of Peter in the New Testament knows that he was anything but a rock. He was actually rather unstable.

When Jesus was walking on the water, Peter impetuously decided to try it as well. But as soon as he got out on the waves, his fears got the best of him, he took his eyes off of Jesus, and he began to sink, so that Jesus then had to rescue him. On the night before he was betrayed, Jesus told Peter that he would deny him three times before the cock crowed. Peter said, “Not me! I would never do anything like that!” Of course, we all know the story – he did exactly that. When the going got tough, Peter proved himself to be a fair-weather friend.

This continued even after the resurrection. In Galatians, Paul tells how Peter would ignore the dietary laws when eating with those from a Gentile background, but then would follow them with those who insisted that all the Christians had to follow them as well. Paul rebuked him for his hypocrisy.

I even read the exchange between Jesus and Peter in the beginning of today’s gospel as Jesus gently teasing Peter. Jesus asks the disciples who people say he is, and the disciples tell him the different theories they have heard. Then, he asks them who they say he is. I picture them all looking at each other, afraid to guess, and then Peter impetuously guesses – not as the act of deep faith as it is often read, but rather as a guess, a stab in the dark. When Jesus tells him that “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven”, it is not so much a pious statement as it is a recognition that Peter is too much of a blockhead to ever come up with such a profound statement on his own – it is only by the grace of God that he is able to perceive the truth of who Jesus is – Christ, the anointed one, the son of the living God – fully God, fully human, God incarnate.

But I take great hope in this. If Christ could use Peter to do great things for God, then Christ can use me, as well – in fact, he can use all of us.

And when Jesus says that he will build his church on this rock, he is not referring to Peter alone, and still less to someone who holds an office that Peter may have held. He is referring to all of us who, by the grace of God, are able to recognize Jesus as the Anointed One, and who, by grace, are able to live our lives by that truth. All of us, when we make that confession, are made part of that rock on which the church is built – even as we stumble, as Peter stumbled, we know Christ is always ready to extend a hand to help us up.

So may we always live by the grace that enables us to recognize Jesus as the Christ, the son of the living God.