Keys of The Kingdom

Sunday 23rd August 2020
Year A, The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Service of the Word
Matthew 16.13-20

"Who do people say that I am?" sounds like a familiar question to a generation that is totally bound up with self identity; and the key part of the question, as we know from social media, is not "who do I think I am" because any  aspect of me has to be traded for "who do people think that I am?"

But, needless to say, Jesus was not in that egotistical frame of mind when he asked the question. In his time, in his Jewish culture and in the insistently ubiquitous Greek culture, a person's identity lay entirely in what they did as public figures; to that extent the meaning of person at the time of Jesus was precisely opposite to what it is now. So what Jesus was actually asking was: "Why am I here? What is my purpose?"

The initial answer of his followers was a bit of a muddle: Matthew mentions John the Baptist, Elijah and Jeremiah but no doubt there were others. But the main purpose of the question is to give Peter the opportunity to say his piece as the leader in waiting of Christ's Church on earth.

This passage is irreversibly entangled with Papal claims to the Leadership of the Christian - or at least the Western Christian - Church in spite of the obvious fact that the doctrine of Apostolic Succession is so deeply flawed that not even the assertions in the Letter to the Hebrews can fix it; but we still need to come to terms with the passage in its own right.

In the first place, Jesus is very definite that he is founding some sort of follower community which came to be known as "Church". He quite definitely was not founding a sect consisting of hermits who prayed in their own homes and provided no support to each other. This may be a rather irrelevant observation for you who have taken the trouble to tune in to this reflection but hardly a week goes by when I do not hear somebody, in a statement of ultra Protestantism or hermitism, telling me that you don't need to go to church to be a good Christian. Well, I reckon that those who can manage to be good Christians without mutual support are very few if they take Christianity seriously because in the verses that follow our Reading Jesus says that only those who take up their Cross will truly follow him; and taking up that Cross is a very serious business indeed.