July 29, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: 'I will build my Church'

See Matthew 16:13-23, Mark 8:27-33, Luke 9:18-22

Jesus took his disciples on another journey in Gentile territory. This time they went north of the Sea of Galilee into the Golan Heights, the territory of Philip the Tetrarch, the brother of Herod Antipas.

They went to Caesarea Philipi, a town that Philip had rebuilt from an earlier town called Paneas for the god Pan. Philip dedicated the town, built at the base of the majestic Mount Hermon, to Caesar Augustus.

It was here that Jesus asked the Apostles who the people said that he was. They gave several answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah. But, said Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?”

That was precisely the question the Apostles had been asking themselves. They had committed their whole lives to Jesus, but had apparently never dared to ask him who he was. Now, instead of telling them, he asked them.

“You are the Messiah,” Peter replied, and Matthew’s Gospel adds, “the Son of the Living God”—eliminating any ambiguity attached to the title Messiah.

Jesus’ response surely was a surprise to Peter. Jesus said that God in heaven had revealed that to Peter. Therefore, he said, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.”

Jesus and his Apostles were standing in front of the largest rock in the Holy Land. With that rock in the background, Jesus called Simon “Rock”—Kepa in Aramaic, Petros in Greek. (The word for rock was petra but it had a feminine ­ending.)

Jesus had, in fact, changed Simon’s name to Peter when they first met, and Peter probably wondered why. Now he got more of an inkling.

It was the first time Jesus had said anything about founding a Church; indeed, he said “my Church.”

Jesus then spoke in metaphors. He said that the gates of the netherworld would not prevail against his Church and he would give Peter the keys to his kingdom. Whoever has the keys has control of the gates to a city.

A strange idea has grown up that Peter has the keys to heaven. But the keys he was given were to the kingdom of heaven, the Church on earth, not to heaven itself. Nevertheless, whatever Peter bound or loosed for the Church on earth would be bound or loosed in heaven.

What must the other Apostles have been thinking by this time? Why would Jesus give the keys to his kingdom to Peter? Why wouldn’t he keep them himself? And why Peter of all people?

It was then that Jesus warned them to tell no one that he was the Messiah because he was not the type of Messiah they imagined. When he tried to explain that he had to suffer, be rejected by the leaders of the Jews and be killed, the Apostles couldn’t be anything but astonished and appalled.

This wasn’t their idea of a Messiah! They wanted someone who would lead the revolt against the Romans. Now they were really confused. †


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