Proper 16, A
“From fisher of fish to fisher of people to keeper of the keys to shepherd. It was the Rock’s final promotion, and from that day forward he never let the head office down again.” This is theologian Frederick Buechner’s synopsis of the spiritual progression of Simon bar Jonah, of Peter, the Rock, the cornerstone Jesus chose for His church. But Buechner’s description was the description of After – after Jesus rebuked Peter for completely and utterly failing to understand the journey the Messiah must travel. After Peter denied knowing his teacher, his friend, denied him not once but three times. After Jesus died and Peter went back to fishing. Today is Before. Today we are just at keeper of the keys. Jesus is alive and asking questions and Peter is Peter – bold and brash and bumbling unexpectedly into great truths.
One commentary contends that “Peter functions as a new Abraham. He is the first of his kind, and he stands at the head of a new people. Peter is, like Abraham, a rock (cf. Isa 51:1-2), and the change in his name denotes his function… Peter is not just a representative disciple, as so many Protestant exegetes have been anxious to maintain. Nor is he obviously the first holder of an office others will someday hold, as Roman Catholic tradition has so steadfastly maintained. Rather, he is a man with a unique role in salvation history. The eschatological revelation vouchsafed to him opens a new era. His person marks a change in the times. His significance is the significance of Abraham, which is to say: his faith is the means by which God brings a new people into being.” (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 642ff)
We, who profess to be Christian, who aspire to be the body of Christ, we are the new people. A new people underpinned, not by perfect understanding (remember Peter’s soon-to-be-evident complete failure to understand Jesus’s mission), nor by perfect devotion (remember Peter’s repeated denials), but by faith.
Creed informs faith, but does not replace faith. Faith lies in relationship. Faith lies, as the apostle Paul says, in presenting our selves, our fallible, flawed, fickle selves to God, open to renewal, to God’s transformation time and again.
“Faith in Jesus is following him, serving those the world despises; it’s not a guarantee of earthly glory and success, but willingness to share the scorn that the proud heap upon the humble. Faith doesn’t found empires, but frees us to live as sisters and brothers of all nations. Faith in Jesus doesn’t tell us that we will defeat our enemies; it moves us to love, forgive, and be gracious toward them as Jesus was toward his.” (Sarah Dylan Breuer, blog Sarah Laughed)
Who do you say Jesus is? Within our culture, within our upbringing, we know the “right” answer. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is our Lord and Savior. These are the answers that “they” give; the answers we ingested with our baby food; the answers which, at least within many of our social structures, are the correct and undeniable answers. There is nothing wrong with the answers. They just don’t actually answer the question. Jesus doesn’t want to know what other people say. Jesus blesses Peter not for getting it right, but for looking deep into his heart to the Word with a capital W etched there by God, and at least for that moment living that Word.
The Rev. Scott Colglazier describes this image: “Christ is a word that names the divine energy that was released into the world through the life of Jesus. Just as stars explode and new planets are formed, so in the life of Jesus a certain kind of Christ energy was constellated and released into the world, and this energy is still changing the people. This is nothing less than the energy or presence of God. Compassion exploded into the world through the life of Jesus. Unconditional love and inexhaustible grace was released into the world through the life of Jesus. Creative, transforming and inspiring goodness was released into the world through the life of Jesus.”
Who do you say Jesus is? The answers could be as varied as the parts of the body, as manifold as the functions of Christ’s body. We each must search our own hearts, find our own faith, discover our own answer, answers that may shift and change focus as we live into the life and love and transformation that is faith.
Who do you say Jesus is? Your answer to that question may well determine who you are willing to be.
I’ll leave you with this poem by Steve Garnaas-Holmes:
Who do you say I am?
You are the Beloved,
you are my bread and wine,
my peanut butter and jelly, my chocolate.
You are my teacher, my rescuer,
lover of heaven, light of my way.
You are God’s selfie,
and my best mirror.
You are the One in whom I meet my many,
the world’s many, all of us one.
You are my breathing coach,
my soul’s midwife,
the reaching out in me,
lover that lights my love,
comedian in my tragedies,
pitcher my hope pours from.
You are the hole through which
God springs out of my life.
You are the one who knows,
and who never makes fun of me.
Trickster, host and scout,
you hide in every low place,
find the question in everything
show me the holy in everything.
When I burrow into my ruin
you are the one I met there,
preparing a table.
You laugh at my sin, hold my despair,
sleep in my boat, stand on my forgiveness,
walk my way, die my death.
You are my next life, germinating in me.
On my cross, in my grave you wait for me.
You are my resurrection.
And so you are for the whole aching world,
for this holy, spinning universe,
that sings in harmony for you
our thanks to God.