Lectio Divina: Matthew 16:13-23
1) Opening prayer
Father of everlasting goodness,
our origin and guide,
be close to us
and hear the prayers of all who praise You.
Forgive our sins and restore us to life.
Keep us safe in Your love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading
Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you." He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."
• We are now in the narrative part between the discourse on the Parables (Mt 13) and the discourse on the community (Mt 18). In these narrative parts which link together the five discourses, Matthew usually follows the sequence of the Gospel of Mark. Once in a while, he gives other information, also known by Luke. Here and there, he quotes texts which appear only in the Gospel of Matthew, like, for example, the conversation between Jesus and Peter in today’s Gospel. This text has different interpretations and even contradictory ones among the diverse Christian Churches.
• At that time, the communities fostered a very strong affective bond of union with the leaders who had given origin to the community. For example, the communities of Antioch in Syria fostered their relationship with Peter. Those of Greece promoted their relationship with Paul; some communities of Asia, with the Beloved Disciple and others with the person of John of the Apocalypse. Identification with these leaders to whom they owed their origin helped the communities to build better their identity and spirituality. But this could also be a reason for dispute, like in the case of the community of Corinth (1 Cor 1:11-12).
• Matthew 16:13-16: The opinions of the people and of the disciples concerning Jesus. Jesus asks the opinion of the people concerning Himself, the Son of Man. The responses are varied: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the Prophets. When Jesus asks the disciples’ opinion, Peter becomes the spokesman and says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” The response is not a new one. Previously, the disciples had said the same thing (Mt 14:33). In John’s Gospel, the same profession of faith is made by Martha (Jn 11:27). It means that the prophecies of the Old Testament are realized in Jesus.
• Matthew 16:17: Jesus’ response to Peter: "Blessed are you, Simon!” Jesus proclaims Peter “Blessed” because he has received a revelation from the Father. Here, also, the response of Jesus is not new. Before, Jesus had praised the Father because He had revealed the Son to the little ones and not to the wise (Mt 11:25-27) and had made the same proclamation of joy to the disciples who were seeing and hearing new things which, up until then, nobody had known or heard (Mt 13:16).
• Matthew 16:18-20: The attributions of Peter: To be rock and to receive the keys of the Kingdom.
(a) To be rock: Peter has to be Rock that is the stable basis for the Church in such a way that it can prevail against the gates of hell. With these words which Jesus addressed to Peter, Matthew encourages the persecuted community of Syria and Palestine, to see in Peter the leader who belongs to their origin. In spite of persecution and weakness, the community has a firm basis, guaranteed by the word of Jesus. The notion of being rock based on faith evokes the word of God to the people in exile: “Listen to Me, you who pursue saving justice, you who seek Yahweh; consider the rock (pietra) from which you were hewn, the quarry from which you were dug; consider Abraham your father, and Sarah who gave birth to you. When I called him, he was the only one, but I blessed him and made him numerous” (Isa 51:1-2). This indicates that a new beginning of the People of God is with Peter.
(b) The keys of the Kingdom: Peter receives the keys of the Kingdom. The same power of binding and loosing is also given to the communities (Mt 18:18) and to the other disciples (Jn 20:23). One of the points on which the Gospel of Matthew insists is reconciliation and pardon. It is one of the more important tasks of coordinators of the communities. By imitating Peter, they should bind and loosen, that is, do in such a way that there is reconciliation and reciprocal acceptance, construction of fraternity, even up to seventy times (Mt 18:22).
• Matthew 16:21-22: Jesus completes what was missing in Peter’s response, and Peter reacts. Jesus begins saying that He had “to go to Jerusalem and suffer very much on the part of the Elders, of the high priests and of the scribes, and be killed and on the third day, rise from the dead.”. Saying that He had to go and would be killed, or that it was necessary to suffer, He indicated that suffering had been foreseen by the prophecies. The way of the Messiah is not only one of triumph and glory, but also one of suffering and of the cross! If Peter accepts Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, he has to accept Him also as Messiah servant who will be killed. But Peter does not accept Jesus’ correction and tries to draw Him away. Taking Jesus aside, he began to rebuke Him: Heaven preserve You, Lord, this must not happen to You!”
• Matthew 16:23: Jesus’ reply to Peter: stumbling stone. Jesus’ response is surprising. Peter wanted to steer Jesus in another direction. Jesus reacts: “Get behind Me, Satan. You are an obstacle in My path, because you are thinking not as God thinks but as human beings do.” Peter has to follow Jesus, and not the contrary. Jesus is the one who gives the directions. Satan is the one who draws people away from the road traced by Jesus. Once again the expression rock – pietra - appears, but now in the contrary sense. Peter, at one time, is the supporting rock; at other times, the stumbling block! The communities at the time of Matthew were like that, characterized by ambiguity. This is the way we all are, according to what John Paul II said, that the papacy itself was characterized by the same ambiguity of Peter: rock of support for the faith and stumbling block in the faith.
4) Personal questions
• What are the opinions about Jesus which exist in our community? These differences in the way of living and of expressing faith, do they enrich the community or do they render the way more difficult?
• What type of rock is our community? What is our mission?
5) Concluding Prayer
Give me back the joy of Your salvation,
sustain in me a generous spirit.
I shall teach the wicked Your paths,
and sinners will return to You. (Ps 51:12-13)