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This week's readings: 14th Sunday after Trinity


Proper 17:
Exodus 3.1-15
or Jeremiah 15.15-21;
Romans 12.9-end;
Matthew 16.21-end

MATTHEW'S JESUS gave authority to the 12 disciples. Matthew makes Peter's precedence clear: "The names of the 12 apostles are these: first, Peter" (Matthew 10.2).

It was Peter who sought to walk across the waves to join his Lord (Matthew 14.28). Peter spoke up to identify Jesus: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Jesus responded with a blessing on Peter: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my father who is in heaven" (Matthew 16.13).

Mark had stressed throughout his story that the disciples failed, endlessly, to understand. So he challenged and teased his readers into making the progress that the disciples hardly made at all. Matthew has a different emphasis: on the insight that the disciples did attain - and on the blessing that made that insight possible for both the disciples and Matthew's readers.

"Everything has been given to me by my father," said Jesus, "and no one knows the son except the father, and no one knows the father except the son and those to whom the son wishes to reveal him" (Matthew 11.27).

The disciples are already privileged in what they see and hear. "Truly I tell you," Jesus tells them, "many prophets and just men longed to see what you see and did not see it, and to hear what you hear and did not hear it" (Matthew 13.17). The real privilege, however, is to be enabled truly to see and to hear; a privilege that Matthew knows is not a gift he can offer to his readers. He can offer only his text.

Here, the readers who are blessed with understanding can recognise the very voice and presence, in the Church, of the "With-us-God" (Emmanuel), proclaimed at the start of the Gospel, who is with us, as he declares at the end of the Gospel, until the close of the age (Matthew 1.23, 28.20).

Half way through the story, Peter - and, as Matthew expects, the readers - have a long way still to go. The Peter blessed by Jesus is appalled by Jesus's prediction that he, Jesus, must be killed. Peter takes Jesus to one side, a senior servant quietly correcting his master's ill-omened delusion. (It was not for death or defeat that Peter and the Twelve had joined Jesus and grown to love him.)

Jesus turns away with a brusque dismissal: "Go away, get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block in my way" (Matthew 16.23).

Jesus had already been taken to a mountain-top by the devil, and been offered power over all the kingdoms of creation - if only Jesus would do obeisance to the devil. Jesus's response was forthright: "Go away, Satan!" (Matthew 4.10). Jesus must undergo the death he foretells. Only then, at the end of the Gospel, does he take on, from God, the gift of the kingdom: "All power has been given to me, in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28.18).

To follow Jesus really is to follow the Jesus who rebutted temptation, denied his own will in Gethsemane, and who carried his cross to his own execution. "My father, if this cup cannot pass from me unless I drink it, your will be done" (Matthew 26.42).

We can aspire, in all integrity, to win the world: to realise every ambition for every success, influence, and wealth. But, the higher we climb our own mountain and the broader the view we command of our own hard-won kingdom, the more frightening (or absurd) the route taken by Jesus can come to seem.

Peter himself (we hear in the second century) fled the persecution under Nero, in AD 64, so that he could go on serving the Lord. As he left Rome, he saw the Lord entering the city. Peter asked: "Domine, quo vadis?" [ "Lord, where are you going?"]

"I am coming to Rome to be crucified."

Peter came to himself, and saw the Lord ascending into heaven. He returned to Rome rejoicing, because the Lord had said: "I am being crucified." For this was to happen to Peter (Acts of Peter 35).

Here is a Petrine story on a Pauline theme. "If", says Paul, "we have been knit together with the very likeness of his death, we shall certainly also be knit together with the very likeness of his resurrection" (Romans 6.5).

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