29 June 2012Matthew 16:13-19
"Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" (v. 13)
Caravaggio's painting of the martyrdom of St Peter hangs in a side chapel of the little church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. It shows the aged Apostle being crucified upside down; according to legend he pleaded for this because he felt unworthy to share the same manner of death as his master, Jesus. Peter is certainly one of the most fascinating characters in the Gospels. A key member of the inner group of Jesus' disciples, he is in turn insightful and ignorant, courageous and cowardly, faithful and fickle. He is the one credited with the insight that Jesus is "the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (v. 16) and in response Jesus gives him a new name (verse 17). He is to be called 'Peter' (from the Greek word for rock), and, according to the words of Jesus, he is to have a crucial role in the new community of faith (verses 18-19).
The verses that talk about Peter having the keys to the kingdom of heaven have led to different interpretations by Roman Catholic and other Christians: is this 'power of the keys' something that Peter passes on to his successors, or is it for his lifetime only? It is worth turning to Isaiah 22:20-24 to see where this reference to the keys comes from. It is a prophecy about corrupt and trustworthy stewardship in the kingdom of David. Peter, it seems, is to be like Eliakim, who was appointed steward in place of a self-seeking predecessor. Just as Eliakim had "the key of the house of David" (Isaiah 22:22), so Peter is to be a gatekeeper for God's kingdom and have oversight of God's people.
But Peter's identity is not the most important thing in this passage, the question 'who is Jesus' is much more vital. Here, at Caesaria Philippi, in the region of Dan, near Mount Hermon, Jesus and the disciples are in an area associated with prophecy and revelation. It is God's direct revelation that enables Peter to see Jesus as more than a mighty prophet; he is the promised Messiah. The new identity that Peter receives is a direct result of his relationship with Jesus.
How would you respond to the question: 'Who is Jesus'?
Which aspect of Peter's life and discipleship do you most identify with? Why?
What new name might reflect your Christian character?