August 24, 2014
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19)
Nothing can thwart God’s blessings; and the folly of fools can be transformed to serve God’s purposes. The great story of Moses and the deliverance of the Hebrew people gets underway in today’s reading. God’s promise to Abraham has been kept – the Hebrews are many, but they have not yet been delivered to a land of their own. Despite the severely oppressive and seriously lethal foe they face in the Pharaoh, God works with any circumstance to make God’s will be done. As we see throughout the biblical narrative, whenever God’s people appear to be at a dead end or irrevocably defeated, God unexpectedly brings life and hope.
Pharaoh’s assaults are two-fold: first, oppressive labor; second, the killing of the male children. And of course, God seizes both opportunities to bless God’s people – hard labor only makes the number of Israelites increase, and the order of death brings wit and cunning from the midwives (and underscores the dementia of the doomed wicked – Pharaoh orders the elimination of the very men he needs to continue his grand building projects). And God’s ultimate victory lies in Moses, the great prophet-to-be, being saved and protected by Pharaoh’s daughter, and later educated by Pharaoh himself. The irony! Indeed, our God turns death into life.
Do you see parallels of this story in your own life? Has the grace of God brought salvation and life where you saw only defeat?
Part of the immense beauty of the psalms is that they richly reflect the human condition. There are psalms of hope, of thanksgiving, of celebration, of lament, of despair, of wisdom. Today’s speaks of the nation’s thankfulness and sense of profound relief, for, like Moses, they have been spared. Contextually speaking, the psalmist was most likely speaking of a national deliverance from being overrun by an enemy force. As we seek to adapt this scripture to our own context, we might move beyond its literal/historical situation.
We all have experienced feelings of being attacked by others – emotionally, verbally or physically, and perhaps we felt God’s saving hand carrying us through such dark times. For many, other kinds of assaults are just as real and painful. These are the assaults of loneliness, depression, self-defeating attitudes and actions, low self-esteem and general “stinkin’ thinkin’.” No one can face these times of life alone, and like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, we will only survive, we will only avoid being “swallowed up alive” (v. 3) if someone or something is there to carry us. This psalm might serve as a reminder that God has always been willing to “be on our side” as we journey through the valley of darkness and fear, if we are willing to allow God to guide us.
When in your life have you experienced God’s saving action?
Paul speaks of community, self-giving, transformation of mind, and the interdependence Christians have upon each other in light of the diversity of God’s gifts. Such an economy of verses brings such a cornucopia of challenges to the Christian hearer of this text.
Paul’s admonition in verse 2 is especially compelling and prescient. In his own historical context, the apostle was speaking of the strongly held belief of the period that the world as we know it was passing away and a new world was being born. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus were a testament and major turning point of this transitional age. While the church no longer clings to expectations of an imminent apocalypse, we can testify to the reality that the world often appears to function by one set of values, while the gospel demands another set. And we know that the values of the world are indeed pervasive; sometimes they are manifested in the running of the church itself. Paul calls us to be aware of this reality, and to bring a transformed perspective to how we might carry the values of the gospel into a world where they remain foreign.
Paul’s preaching of a variety of gifts reminds us that no Christian is an island. God has ordained each of us with gifts – a special, singular gift that we bring to the community and the world. No gift is for ourselves; all gifts are given to be shared. Notice the diversity of the gifts – some have wealth and are expected to share; some have the gift of being compassionate, they are expected to exercise this gift with cheerful generosity. The community needs each; none is important than another.
What is your gift, and how do you bring it to your community?
Today’s gospel passage underscores a number of significant themes – Jesus’ identity as Messiah, Peter’s confession and the powers conferred on Peter (later extended to the other apostles in Matthew 18:18).
Let us focus on Matthew’s highlighting of the designation of Peter as holding the power to bind and loosen, as well as Peter’s new nickname: Rocky. We notice that the other gospels that record this story do not contain anything analogous to verse 19. (See Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21.) Matthew’s choice to record Jesus’ instruction and new name to Peter was carefully, for Peter had become, at the time of the writing of Matthew’s text, a sign of unity; a bridge-builder or pontifex. Early Christianity was divided along lines of non-Israelite converts associated with Paul, and Israelites who insisted that Christians must continue to follow the Mosaic Law, especially regarding circumcision and dietary regulations. Peter was recognized early on, according to scripture scholar Benedict Viviano, OP, as one who could hold these two divergent tendencies in the church in an “uneasy synthesis.” In other words, there was tension and paradox in Christian life, and Peter symbolized the one who held these together, preserving the unity of the flock that the Lord so highly valued (John 17:21). In our church and our personal lives of faith, we, too, are called to be Peter, holding tensions with care, holiness, patience.
How have you been challenged to hold paradox and tension in your faith journey?