THE COURAGE OF COMMITMENT (Matthew 16:13-20)
Imagine how Peter felt the moment after he made his commitment to Christ: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Imagine how the other disciples felt: ‘There goes Peter, putting his foot in it, probably mouthing heresy.’
That Jesus is Lord and Messiah and Son of God means he’s not just a prophet whom we obey and show some interest in and maybe compare with other prophets before we decide what we will do next, based on our assessment.
That Jesus is not one of the prophets, even one of the great prophets, is the equivalent of saying he’s more than just an esteemed editorial writer or influential blogger in our own day, an especially skilled politician with his fingers on the pulse of the electorate, a crowd pleaser, even someone with a knowledge of the truth.
For what Jesus says is not the only important thing about him, if he’s more than a prophet. Who he is, is important. He’s the Christ, God’s anointed to save us from sin and evil, the Son of the Living God.
And if that’s who he is, then we have no choice but to follow him. If what he says is all that’s important, we can listen, or not. If what he is, is important, then we have no choice but to follow.
So Peter is saying something about himself as well as about Christ. He’s saying he’ll follow this man, who’s more than a man. He’ll depend on him for life itself, for salvation itself. He won’t hedge his bets. He’ll remove his allegiance to other prophets, other sayings, other codes, other traditions.
He’ll put all his chips on Christ, wager all his traditions on him; which, if he’s wrong, means he’ll suffer great losses and evil consequences. If he’s bet on the wrong horse, at the least he will wind up a loser in life by not following the right set of God’s proclamations. At the worst he’ll wind up a loser in death, if another prophet is the way of salvation.
So who do you say that Jesus is? Forget whoever everybody else says Jesus is. Don’t hedge your bets. Don’t look elsewhere for information. Don’t follow the herd. Who do you say that Jesus is? Are you willing to step out in faith by saying that Jesus is your Messiah, the one appointed by God to lead you, to teach you, leading you even unto death?
For that is where Christ does lead us, to our death and our manner of dying. Martin Luther King said we were to pick up our cross and follow Christ, and eventually be crucified on it. Ignore easier roads. And do it without thinking about it, like Peter, without weighing all the options, without weighing all the pros and cons of this lifestyle or that lifestyle or this set of priorities or that set of priorities.
Jesus looks in our eyes and says: “Who do you say that I am?” What do we say?
It’s no surprise that Peter was the first to blurt out his answer, before the others mustered up their courage. He was always first. He was the first out of the boat when Jesus was walking on water near to them. He almost drowned until Jesus reached down and pulled him out of the drink.
He’s first out of the boat again after the resurrection when he sees Jesus walking beside the sea of Tiberias. Then he’s able to have breakfast with Jesus, and ponder whether he loves him – the same way he ponders it here – in that Eucharistic feast with the fish the way we have a Eucharistic feast here with bread and wine and ponder Jesus’ love for us every Sunday in this context.
Do you love me? Will you follow me? “Who do you say that I am?” Don’t ponder it. Don’t say what others say. Who do you say that I am?
Perhaps that is why Jesus says: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven” – because headlong, faithful Peter would allow anyone in without thinking too much about it, unlike others. “And whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
A better translation would be: “whatever you bind on earth will be what was bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be what was loosed in heaven.”
In other words, Peter is given the gift of sight and speech, not the gift of power. Peter was able to see who Christ really was, and was able to stand up and say it. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.” Peter has this gift of seeing what God has revealed, and speaking up about it. Jesus’ gift to him of binding and loosing is just the next step. He will be able to see just how merciful God is – in loosing people from their sins and the consequences of their sins. He will be able to see just how just God is – in holding us accountable for our actions, all within the context of that mercy.
He will be able to say, now, just how forgiving God is to everybody, about how the Lord of the Universe looses us from our sins. For the Lord of the Universe sees all we do and forgives us our sins, and the job of Peter and the church is to say that. The keys of the kingdom are not to lock the doors and keep people out. The keys of the kingdom are to unlock the doors and let the treasures of heaven out. This is why the keys are given to headlong Peter, because he can be trusted to go with his emotions and get the treasures of heaven out to as many people as he can, rather than more judiciously choosing some but not others.
Who do you say that God is? Speak from the heart, without looking around to see what others say. It’s the same kind of faith that would make you leap out of a boat heedless of the consequences. It’s the same kind of faith that would propel you into dangerous places and difficult circumstances; that would make you think, later on: ‘why oh why did I make that decision?’
Well, because the decision was for Christ, who loves us, who wants not just our commitment but our love, and gives each of us his love too, love that finishes with death on the cross for us, and life eternal too.