Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice
Sundays after Trinity (11)
Matthew 16.21-end :
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Have you or your Christian community ever ‘suffered’ from being identified with Jesus and his agenda? If so, how? Do you ever feel you need to hide or risk your faith?
Reflection on the text
For nearly three years, Jesus has been proclaiming his revolutionary message of justice, equality, peace and freedom: a whole new world order of right relationships which, in Matthew’s gospel, goes by the name ‘kingdom of heaven’. The Jewish religious establishment, with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and good relations with the Romans, has had enough. Jesus was dangerous; he had to be stopped, before they had an uprising; he had to be ‘done away with’.
The final showdown is close. Jesus, aware of the eventual outcome, tells his disciples that he has to head for Jerusalem and face whatever lies ahead. Jerusalem is the city where prophets die (Matt 23V29-39). He knows he is putting himself into the hands of his enemies. Peter, who has just acknowledged Jesus to be ‘the Messiah (Greek = Christ), the Son of the living God’, is appalled. He still hasn’t understood, and mustn’t be allowed to get in Jesus’ way. Peter is focused on glory and wealth not suffering and death.
The moment of decision had come for Jesus’ followers. His challenge is stark (v24-26): Are you prepared to come with me, to follow my lead, regardless of the cost? Or will you take the easy way, opt out, and so risk ‘losing your soul’?
This choice was a matter of life and death! For us 2000 years later it is just the same.
some questions for group discussion:
- Do you believe that the issues today are as stark as Jesus presents them, and is conflict always inevitable for us too?
- What does it mean today to ‘lose your soul’ and to ‘gain the whole world’
(see v 26)?
- Has your Christian community ever taken a risk for the gospel?
- Is there an issue your church should take up but to do so would arouse hostility in your area?
- In what ways do we, like Peter, blind ourselves to what Jesus is about?
- Do you know of any Christian community under pressure or in real danger because it identifies with Jesus and the Kingdom of God (eg in Iraq, perhaps)?
- Find out about the dangers they face, the needs they have. What can your small community do? Why not try to make contact with them and undertake a long term commitment to them?
- Say the Lord’s Prayer, pausing at the petition ‘lead us not into temptation’; then confess the desire to take the softer option, to compromise … and name the issues you face.
- Spend an agreed time in silence, and try to be honest before God about how you succumb to temptations to blur the issues when dealing with people whose values are other than those of the Kingdom.
- Pray for strength to face the danger of losing our cutting edge and ultimately our integrity before God.
More background information
- We recommend Brian Stoffegen’s comments at http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/matt16x21.htm.
- Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, a brave and outspoken critic of the military regime in his country and their abuse of power, uttered some prophetic words not long before they shot him - ‘they always get rid of those who get in the way!’.
- "There is no convenient way to carry a cross....if we put a handle on the cross to carry it as a businessman carries a briefcase, then the Christian faith has lost its ground. Jesus didn't say 'Take up your lunch box & follow me'". Kosuke Koyama, 1976, 'No Handle on the Cross', SCM, London, page7
- Hymn: “I Bind My Heart This Tide”
I bind my heart this tide
to the Galilean’s side,
to the wounds of Calvary,
to the Christ who died for me.
I bind my soul this day
to the neighbor far away,
and the stranger near at hand,
in this town, and in this land.
I bind my heart in thrall
to the God, the Lord of all,
to the God, the poor one’s friend,
and the Christ whom he did send.
I bind myself to peace,
to make strife and envy cease.
God, knit thou sure the cord
of my thralldom to my Lord!
Lauchlan M. Watt, The Tryst, A Book of the Soul (1907) Tune: UNION