Monday, August 22, 2011

Two Kinds of Faith

This week's gospel is Mat 16:13-20:
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
Here Jesus contrasts a faith based on human opinion with a faith based on revelation. This is a distinction being made a lot in discussions at Called to Communion and other places. But I was surprised to see how clear Jesus makes that in this passage. Where can we get information about Jesus? We can just see what people are saying. We will get answers. Actually pretty good ones. Jesus is a prophet. So comparing Him to Elijah or Jeremiah is not way off base. But it is too small. It is not the fullness of truth about Jesus.

In verse 15 Jesus asks "What about you?" As modern individualists we tend to think Jesus is making it personal. Asking what my faith is like. But He is asking the disciples. Those that have been chosen by Jesus to have a special role in the Kingdom. Jesus is suggesting the opinion of the disciples is going to be more accurate. That opinion is expressed by Peter. Jesus blessed Peter. Not just saying Peter got an answer right. He is saying the rightness is not just a coincidence. That the process of Peter speaking for the disciples was mysteriously transformed into God speaking through Peter.

Now if Jesus was just referring to an unrepeatable event that God revealed to Peter the 10 words he said in verse 16 then it is quite unremarkable. Why validate the way Peter arrived at this answer rather than just validating the answer itself? It only makes sense if this process can be used for other questions. So even before we get to verse 18 and 19 and the images of the rock and the keys we already have the suggestion that Jesus is teaching us how to get past human opinion and arrive at divine revelation.

The fact that Peter was to get the keys of the kingdom of heaven would have been expected. The disciples knew they were to reign with Christ. It was obvious Peter was the leader of the disciples. Why would Peter not be made leader of the church? The modern idea that Jesus' kingdom might not have any officers or magistrates or administrators would not have occurred to anyone. The notion that one person would serve as a chief administrator under the king was well known then and is well known now. Every president will  appoint a chief of staff. Peter was the obvious choice.

It would also be obvious that obedience to Jesus would imply obedience to Peter. You could not call yourself a follower of a king and disobey his officials. To rebel against the official was to rebel against the king. Why should the kingdom of heaven be any different?

Then you have the rock. Peter is the foundation of the church. This makes no sense to many people. How can a person, even a person with successors, be the foundation of the church? You see leaders being called the head or the summit or the top. Who calls them the foundation? Foundations are important but they are invisible. Popes are not invisible. They are to be servant leaders.

I do see the papacy as being thing that makes the Catholic church resist cultural pressure when other churches have caved in badly. The pope is not answerable to anyone but God. He has huge power in the church and is basically immune to public pressure. When a new pope is chosen it is by and from a college of cardinals that the old pope picked. So there is very little chance for the waves of human opinion to get in and toss the church around. Sure there is the Holy Spirit protecting the church but it does seem like in terms of human structure the papacy is designed to resist change rather than reflect the will of the membership.

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