The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 16A (August 24, 2014)

Lessons:Isaiah 51:1-6 Psalm 138 (8) Romans 12:1-8 St. Matthew 16:13-20

Semicontinuous Series Exodus 1:8-2:10 Psalm 124 (7)

Prayer of the Day: O God, with all your faithful followers of every age, we praise you, the rock of our life. Be our strong foundation and form us into the body of your Son, that we may gladly minister to all the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

St. Matthew 16:13-20. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Rock Solid Faith

It seems, some times, that we are inundated with polls. There are polls about issues; polls about politicians; polls about items of human interest. We seem obsessed with knowing how many people agree or disagree with us.

In today's Gospel lesson, Jesus takes a poll of his own. As he is traveling through Caesarea Philippi, he raises two questions. First of all, he asks his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They come back with the following information: some believe that he is John the Baptist, come back to life. Some believe that he is the Old Testament prophet Elijah. Some believe that he is Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.

The professional pollsters, Harris and Kinsey and the like, would probably deduce from the data that most folks really don't know who Jesus was. Sure they respect him a great deal. Sure they have followed him, and admire him, and listen to him. But they really don't know who he is. His informal poll proves that.

But then Jesus turns the same question towards the disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” This is a different experience for them — it doesn't have to do with the gathering of public opinion. It doesn't have to do with data collected while milling through the crowds. It has to do with their personal beliefs. It has to do with how deeply they believe in him, and how seriously they have committed themselves to his ministry.

We can't know what the others are thinking, but as usual, we know what Simon does: he calls out: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Never before has anyone ever spoken what many must be suspecting. Jesus is the one for whom they were waiting. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Savior, who will bring God's salvation to the world.

Jesus is impressed with this declaration, and says so: “Blessed are you,” Jesus says to Simon, “God has revealed this to you.” Then Jesus says something very interesting. He claims that Simon will be the rock upon which the church will be built. In the Greek language (the language of the New Testament), the word for rock is πετρός (petros), and so in this passage Simon, brother of Andrew, is renamed Peter.

Why does Jesus do this? He does this, quite simply, because Peter has finally stumbled upon what it means to be a follower of Jesus. It doesn't have to do with political victory. It doesn't have to do with military might. It doesn't have to do with crushing their enemies (all of these are common first century Messianic expectations). It has to do with faith; the kind of faith Peter displays when he declares for all to hear that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. This kind of faith is as solid as a rock. In these words from Peter, we find the very foundation of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. A foundation that will never fail. A foundation on which the whole church would be built..

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How is Jesus understood by the crowds?
  2. What have the disciples come to believe about Jesus at this point?
  3. How is Peter’s declaration a foundation on which an entire faith community can be built?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do people believe about Jesus today?
  2. What do I believe about Jesus?
  3. How do those beliefs shape my life, and my living?