23 August 2020 - Ordinary 21

Reflection for OS21, Sunday August 23 2020.

Gospel Reading: Matthew 16.13-20 – Peter and the keys of the kingdom.

Last week we left Jesus and the disciples in the region of Tyre and Sidon. This week’s Gospel has them at Caesarea Philippi which was their destination. It would appear that Jesus was seeking some quiet away from the crowds of the Galilee mission and the constant requests for healing. Caesarea Philippi is a particularly beautiful area in northern Israel. It is now dedicated as a Nature reserve. The area is at the foot of Mt. Hermon and melting snow feeds numerous springs and streams. It is an ideal place for a group to go and talk together.

The question for discussion concerns the identity of Jesus. He asks the disciples who people say He is. Peter has the right answer. “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.” Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the promised one who fulfils the OT prophesies. He is Son of the living God. God has life in Himself and Jesus can promise that the power of death will never prevail. This leads to the naming of Peter as the Rock – the name means rock. This can be viewed as a prophetic statement by Jesus regarding Peter’s future and the shape of the church of the future. This is Jesus’ declaration about Peter just as Peter has made a declaration about Jesus and His identity. The church in the same way finds a parallel in the OT congregation as Paul shows at 1 Corinthians 10.1ff. The Gates of Hell will not prevail against it. In the 1st century AD Hades was the place of the ungodly dead. The picture is of the church rock suffering an onslaught of the forces of evil. But Peter has the keys of the kingdom of God and evil cannot prevail.

The authority of binding and loosing brings us to perhaps the most obscure verses in the NT. It is safest to regard the authority as applied to teaching as well as to the forgiveness of sin. The authority is given to Peter (all the verbs are singular), and thus Jesus ensured dependable leadership and development of teaching and personal spiritual growth. What is quite clear is that Jesus intended to found a church and provided an example of community life in the OT church and rock-like leadership. The keys will open the doors to the future as it develops.

Historical Note: The city of Caesarea Philippi in the time of Jesus was the capital of the kingdom of Herod Philip, one of the sons of Herod the Great, and later of Herod Agrippa II. Recent excavations have revealed the foundations of several large buildings and part of the cardo or main street. To the west rising ground held the shrine of Pan and a splendid temple dedicated to the Emperor Augustus.

Reverend Dr Calum Gilmour

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