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Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice

Sundays after Trinity (2)

Matthew 16: 13 - 19: A New Model of Leader

Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Sharing together

Are there any tensions surrounding leadership in your church community? Who makes the rules, and decides what and how things should be done? Share your experiences of how to recognise and build on good leadership.

Reflection on the text

Jesus, the Christ, is a different kind of Messiah – one who is acknowledged and recognised in the heart of the occupied territories. Even Caesarea Philippi has the Emperor’s name. The Jewish elite have never recognised him, Peter the fisherman does. But the words he uses are a direct challenge to Rome and the cult of the Emperor, “the Son of the Living God”. Peter has recognised Jesus’ true position, now Jesus describes Peter’s.

But what is Jesus creating with his words to Peter? Is it the leader of a new religion? Or is he the organiser of a new kind of community? Is Peter to be the one who makes the rules, or the one who sees they are obeyed? Is he being given a unique role as the future first bishop, as some would say? Or is he a representative of a group who will find another way of being human and being church?
Application: some questions for group discussion:
  1. What do we mean by ‘church’? And how do we decide on and relate to figures of authority within it? How easy is it to change the structures once they are in place? Discuss ways of challenging the ‘imperial powers’ of today – in Church or State.

  2. What’s in a name? Share examples of people who have changed theirs, and discuss why you think they did so. Do you know any rock-like people?

  3. If you had the keys to the kingdom of heaven, how would you decide who to let in or keep out? What to forbid and what to allow? Is God’s forgiveness freely available, or does it have to be channelled through someone official?
Praying Together

Pray together for discernment about ‘binding or loosing’ – to be given the grace to be open and welcoming, and to recognise skills and talents in other people.

Give thanks for all who want to “build a church” or, these days, “a fresh expression of church” and pray for the understanding that it is Jesus’ work that is being done, and not our own agendas.

More background information
  1. The principle of changing names to indicate a change of status is well attested in Scripture. Think of Sarai/Sarah, Abram/Abraham, Jacob/Israel, Simon/Peter, Saul/Paul; even Jesus/Emmanuel. ‘Christ’ was never a personal name, but the Greek equivalent of ‘Messiah’, meaning anointed one.

  2. The area around Caesarea Philippi was well known for the worship of Pan, the Roman shepherd god. Now a different sort of shepherd has been recognised.

  3. The original meaning of ecclesia (a word we now translate as church) had more to do with people and community, and not a place of ritual worship. It was more political than cultic. For more on this, see for example Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading, by Warren Carter.

  4. This passage really needs to be read in the light of verses 21 to 28 where Jesus begins to spell out a radically different understanding of Messiah as the suffering servant.

Building Kingdom-shaped communities
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