I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. (16:18)
Fifteen years ago a Hollywood B movie called Dogma created a bit of a stir in religious communities. The plot was centred on two fallen angels’ attempt to get back into heaven by exploiting an apparent loophole in the divine law. These characters, Bartleby and Loki, played by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, are barred from heaven but they believe they can return in a very easy way, thanks to the misplaced trust that God has for human beings. All they have to do is to walk through the door of a particular church to which the pope has attached the complete remission of sins, thereby being forgiven on the spot and allowed back into the heavenly realm. Bartleby summarises his legalistic plan with these words,
‘One of the last sacred promises imparted to Peter by the Son of God before He left was "Whatever you hold true on earth I'll hold true in Heaven." So if the Pope says it is so, God must adhere. It's dogmatic law.’
Well, as shallow and ridiculous this interpretation of Scripture may be, I believe that the screenwriters behind Dogma got something right – the trust which Jesus places in the Church. In our gospel reading we see this promise of trust made by Jesus to St Peter.
Now, there are a variety of ways for reflecting on these words of Jesus that all too often depend on denominational interpretation of the Bible and on churchmanship, but I would like to suggest to you is another approach; considering the words of Jesus as part of a "divine tradition", as part of God’s tried and tested way of involving people into his work.
Throughout Scripture we read of men and women who received invitations by God to collaborate with him; calls not just to obey and worship him, but also to extend his salvation to all; on his behalf, as it were. Adam and Eve, called to work within creation; Noah, called to save creation; Abraham, called to be the father of nations and of countless believers; Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, called to lead God’s people to freedom; Paul, called to build up the Church he once tried to destroy; and probably the chief example of all, Mary, called to give her entire self so that God might become God-with-us, the Immanuel. God invited these people (and innumerable more beside) to join his work of salvation; on all of them God has taken a risk; more importantly, in all of them God has placed his trust.
Today Jesus speaks to Peter and says, I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. In these words we hear God who always entrusts all that He is to human hands. Through Peter this promise is extended to the whole church, making the church community, that is you and I, into the new meeting place between God and creation, between heaven and earth.
Noah, Abraham, Mary, and especially Peter and Paul who we celebrate today… in every generation God has trusted humanity with His work, He has risked all by inviting humanity to join his mission. He trusts also in me and you; entrusting all that He is to our poor, often hesitant, fragile hands.
God knows that we are not capable to love as well as he loves; He knows that, like Peter and Paul, we quarrel with one-another and that we are often reluctant to meet together amidst our differences. Yet God trusts us enough to take the ultimate risk with us. Then, when we hear Jesus saying, I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, we should ask ourselves what excuses do we have for remaining cold and indifferent towards the work of salvation entrusted to us? What excuses do we have for saying to God, ‘Thank you for the vote of confidence, Lord, but I’m not interested’?
A few words used at ordination services up and down the country in these days around Petertide may speak to us all, not just to clergy; they go like this,
‘We bid you remember the greatness of the trust that is now to be committed to your charge… you cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength, but only with the grace and power of God’.
May Ss Peter and Paul pray for us, that we may be generous and courageous in honouring the trust God has placed in our hands. Amen.