Text study for Matthew 16:13-20
Lectionary text for August 21, 2011
Those of us of a certain age remember a television game show originating in 1950 titled, “What’s My Line?” In the show, four panelists attempted to guess the occupations of guests and at the end of the show tried to guess the identity of a well-known mystery guest.
In this Gospel reading, Jesus appears to be playing this game with the 12 apostles and they are not doing very well.
“Who do people say I am?” That’s the easy part — “Oh, John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”
Then Jesus asks the hard question, “But who do you say I am?” Suddenly the apostles are silent; they don’t know what to say. Finally, Simon answers for the church, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” This is Simon’s confession; it is the foundation of the Christian church.
If asked, “Who would you say Jesus is?” what would you say? As a pastor my answer is easy: I would reiterate Peter’s confession. And yet, the answer is sometimes better not said in those words.
I am a fire company chaplain as well as a member of a Critical Incident Stress Management team. In those roles I have never been directly asked that question, but in dealing with people who have often just experienced the worst day of their lives it is often an unexpressed request. In such situations people do not want, nor will they accept, a sermon.
As a chaplain, God’s call to me is to bring God’s comforting presence to the afflicted without proselytizing. God is big enough to take care of himself; he does not need me as a PR agent.
I know that God is always present. And I embody that presence as I am present to those in need as a person of God in their circumstances, listening and responding to the situations in which they find themselves.
Jesus, in a play on words, renames Simon as Peter, or “Petros” in Greek, after his confession. Jesus goes on to say that upon this rock (in the original Greek the word is “petra”), I will build my church.
“Petros” means a very small piece of rock, such as a chip. “Petra” means a huge boulder. Peter (Petros), is like us, “chips off the old block” — the block being the rock or boulder of Jesus’ church.
Each of us is a small piece of the church and our call is to not only make Jesus Christ known through words but also to make him known through our actions and deeds outside of the confines of the church building. We are all given life gifts by God to bring God’s presence to all through our interactions with others.
- In the midst of devastation or suffering, how have you known the presence of Christ without being told about it?
- How can we bring Jesus Christ to humanity without using words?
- What life gifts have you been given in order that you might bring Jesus’ presence to those who do not know him?
Frank Sayford, a retired Lutheran pastor living in Warrington, Pa., is a member of Christ’s Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Oreland, Pa.. He is the chaplain of the German-American Firefighters Asssociation, the Fort Washington Fire Company and is a member of the Montgomery County, Pa.,Critical Incident Stress Management team.