Texts: Isa 51.1-6; Rom 12.1-8; Matt 16.13-20
When we got to Nashua—which is a small town of about 200 people—we stopped at the restaurant in town. My cousin’s wife worked there, and we met my Uncle Leroy and Aunt Bonnie and a few of my cousins there. When we walked into the restaurant and sat down, the waitress came to take our order. She was a local; she’d gone to school with my two uncles and my aunt, and watched my cousins grow up, but she didn’t know me. However, after looking me over, she asked, “Are you Wes’s son?” She'd never seen me, but she knew my dad, and that told her enough to recognize me.
When Jesus asks the disciples, “who do you say that I am,” Simon responds by telling him who his Father is: “You are the Messiah, Son of the living God.” This is not news to anyone at this point; so far in Matthew’s gospel, all of the disciples have recognized Jesus as God’s Son, and he has referred to himself as such. And yet, when he says this, Jesus blesses him.
Does that make you a little uncomfortable? Why would God reveal this truth to some, but not to others? Why is Simon Peter blessed, but not the rest of the disciples? At first glance, it seems exclusive, like God is playing favorites. However, this scene with Simon receiving a new name and a blessing is reminiscent of another scene in Israel’s history. Out of all the people in the world, God chose Abram and his wife Sarai to be the mother and father of a new nation. God gave them new names—Abraham and Sarah—as a sign of the new thing that God was doing; and God blessed them, promising to make the barren couple the forebears of countless descendants. And why? So that through their offspring, the whole world might be blessed.
Throughout history, God continued to choose people from those offspring to bless the nation and, through them, the whole world. Moses, the youngest sibling and a fugitive murderer, was chosen to lead God’s people to freedom so that they might be “a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” God passed by 6 older sons to choose David to be king over Israel. Whenever God chooses people and blesses them, it is never for their good alone, but for the good of all.
So it is when God chooses Simon Peter and the disciples to know the truth of Jesus’ identity. The blessing Simon receives and the new name he is given are intended to be for the whole Church and the whole world. The truth on Simon Peter’s lips is the foundation of our faith, and the fact that it comes to us from God is a reminder, St. Paul says, that it is not because of our outstanding morals or our fantastic good works that we have been chosen; rather, we have been chosen solely by God’s grace. In grace, God has revealed to this community the truth that Jesus is the one sent by God to save the world, and by grace we have each been given a new name in baptism, no longer known by where we come from or what we do, but called “children of God.”
This is the truth with which we have been entrusted: that the God who created the whole world is made known to us in his Son. Just like the waitress in Nashua recognized me because she had known my father, we recognize God because we know God’s Son. “No one knows the Son except the Father,” Jesus says, “and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Mt 11.27) Jesus teaches us how to live together and care for the society and the world that God has made. This revelation and this blessing are not just for us, but for all people.
When our leaders cry for war and sow seeds of dissension and distrust, when the politics and ideologies and fear of the other tear us apart, when the forces of Hell and Death seem ready to consume us, we have been entrusted with God’s response to hate and fear and death. To us has been revealed the kingdom of heaven in which all human beings are valued and beloved, a kingdom in which the community that binds us together is not stronger than the forces which seek to tear us apart. We have been entrusted with the keys to this kingdom, and the gates of Hell are powerless against it.
This blessing does not mean that we have a special claim on God; that we people of faith are “saved” while all the non-believers are “damned” until we swoop in to rescue them. Instead, this blessing means that God has a special claim on us; that we have been not only given a great gift, but entrusted with an awesome responsibility to enter into relationship with our neighbors the way Christ has entered into relationship with us; to love and serve the people around us even to the point of giving our lives for them so that they may come to see the truth of who Jesus is through us and through this community of his called the Church.
Ironically, our story today ends with Jesus’ commanding his disciples to keep quiet about who he is. This is because the story doesn’t stop here—this is just part one. The same Simon Peter who rightly identifies who Jesus is will momentarily show that he still doesn’t know what that means. There is more to the life of faith than knowing who Jesus is; until they figure that out, Jesus tells them to keep a lid on it.
But that’s a topic for next week. In the meantime, we gather once again in this house to confess to one another in word and in deed and in song and in prayer the truth of who Jesus is and to be transformed as God renews our minds. We come once again to this table together to meet the Son of the living God in flesh and blood so that we might be able to go out from this place and introduce him to the world. We come together to be reminded that though we are blessed by the One we meet here, we are called to share that blessing with a world that is facing down the gates of death. Here, we are called by the name of the Son of the living God so that when we go out from here, we may recognize him and follow him.
To be continued…