When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.
- Matthew 16:13-20
Yesterday, we read that the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, "When it is evening you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red'; and in the morning, 'It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah." And He left them and departed. Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees." And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "It is because we have taken no bread." But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, "O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread? Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up? Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? -- but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven." My study bible says that "Who do you say that I am?" is the greatest question a person can ever face. This question defines Christianity. Moreover, I would suggest that the answer defines God and God's nature, at least to the extent that has been revealed to us, and thereby our relationship to the whole of existence. Peter's answer defines the Christian faith as something other than just another philosophical system or path of spirituality; Jesus is the one and only Son of the living God. Compromise with conflicting systems is excluded in this understanding; what is good and true and beautiful is elevated and expanded from this perspective. Peter's understanding cannot be given simply through human reason, but is given through divine revelation through faith (1 Corinthians 12:3). Christ means "Anointed One" in Greek, and is equivalent to the Hebrew title "Messiah." My study bible also asks us to note that Christ first draws out erroneous opinions about Himself here. This is so to identify incorrect ideas. A person is better prepared to avoid false teachings when they have been clearly identified.
"And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." Jesus uses a kind of play on words here as both Peter and rock are the same word in Aramaic (the common spoken language of His time and place) and Greek (the language of the Scriptures, both Old and New, at the time of the writing of the Gospel). That word is petros/petra. John Chrysostom writes that the "rock" referred to by Jesus isn't Peter per se, but rather to the "faith of his confession." The true Rock is Christ Himself (1 Corinthians 10:4), and the Church is built upon this rock -- the faithful confession of Christ. The gates of Hades refers to the powers of death. In the Old Testament, gates are suggestive of a fortified city (Genesis 22:17, 24:60; Isaiah 14:31). My study bible says that Christ shatters its gates, and thereby opens the stronghold of death to set free the souls of the righteous. In the same manner, the Church will not be stopped in her proclamation of salvation. The term church (Gr. ekklesia) is mentioned only twice in all the gospels, here and in 18:17. My study bible says this Church is the true Israel, and the Body of Christ; her citizenship is heavenly.
"And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ. The keys of the kingdom, says my study bible, refers to a special authority that will be given to both Peter and the other apostles after the Resurrection (see 18:18; John 20:23). Peter isn't given to be a leader over others, but among them. This is clearly confirmed at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) where the apostles and presbyters all met as equals -- and where Peter advised, but James presided. My study bible says that Peter's role should neither be exaggerated nor minimized. Binding and loosing refers primarily to the authority "to absolve sins" according to St. John Chrysostom (see John 20:23), but also includes the teaching, sacramental and administrative authority of the apostles, says my study bible. This was in turn transmitted to the bishops of the Church, and continues today.
Jesus clearly indicates here a spiritual Kingdom, not bound by worldly authority and neither bound simply to earthly existence. This is a Kingdom that brings heaven and earth together as one, just as we are taught that the angels worship together with us in the liturgy. Jesus teaches us to pray to our Father in heaven, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." There are no bars here, nothing held back or excluded. This is the fullness of time He teaches us about, the fullness of the world's creation -- for a union, a true assembly (the meaning of the word ekklesia in Greek, or Church). Nothing is kept separate from true faith. As we participate in the liturgy, even His body and blood, we are invited all in, to all of it. And this has to be the great good news -- that human beings are fully eligible for participation in this Kingdom. That the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it says so much more than we nominally understand by these words. These "gates of death" are all the barriers we may find in life to realizing God's love and our participation in the life of Christ. It is every little thing that contributes to a "way of death" as we walk in this world, the things that keep us from God's love and our own fullness within that perspective of love. This is the true power of Christ and the Church in our lives: to take us back from everything that contributes to death or limitation of who we are and the fullness of our lives in this multi-dimensional picture of creation and existence. At Easter, in Christ's Resurrection, we say that He "trampled death by death." So, too, when the things "die" in us that keep us limited, that keep us from realizing the promise of grace in our lives, that hinder us from expanding in our awareness of God's love at work in us, so death is trampled by death. We give up limitation -- often through forgiveness -- in order to expanded, and to live, to gain Christ's life in abundance where we didn't have it. We are set free in so doing, "saved," and the gates of Hades can't hold us from this place of life -- life that is always working, like the enzymes in the leaven in Christ's parable, within us, among us, and in surprising ways. St. Paul said, "I die daily." The image this may suggest to us is like that of our physical bodies, where cells die each day to be replaced by new ones, a constant renewal. So it is with our active faith; it is a venture into the Kingdom, into mystery, into new things to be learned so that we expand, and old things discarded that limit and keep us from better understanding. Let us remember what we are to be about, and what we participate within. There is so much more to be found, discovered, revealed on this path -- this journey of His Way, the promise of the Kingdom that lives with us and within us.