Reflection: Matthew 16:18
Yes, that’s the Matthew in the Bible, so if you’re not “into” the Bible you might be feeling turned off right now. However, I encourage you, dare you even, to be open-minded and see what I have to say. I’ve already declared myself in previous blogs as “spiritual”, but I think I’ve also shown you that I’m not “holier than thou” and that I have a great sense of humor. So come along for the ride.
I was asked to do a reflection on this Bible verse for a candlelight service that was part of a retreat. No guidelines were given other than I had about seven minutes to speak. So I looked up the verse in the Bible to get the exact words. In my version it went like this:
“Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”
So I sat back and I thought about Peter. He’s depicted in the Bible as rather an impetuous person, someone who led with his impulses and instincts rather than his brain. Hot-headed might be another way to put it. He’s quite a lot like many of us. I know he’s most definitely like me.
If I had a button to access that governed my actions it would probably be labeled “bulldozer”. I’ve already admitted several times that I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person. I can still act without thinking things through clearly, throwing myself headlong and with great enthusiasm into whatever the latest project is. Can any of you identify?
Jesus was working with what he had available at the time and I find it interesting that he chose everyday, normal people to be his disciples. He didn’t pick out the learned or the scholarly. He picked fishermen and tax collectors, and during his day-to-day life he associated with the locals and even the “low lifers”.
I’m personally very grateful for that. It allows me, and many others I believe, to identify with these people and realize that if they were worthy then perhaps I too am worthy. If they could sit and talk and eat with Christ then maybe I can get close to him too.
And so Christ chose Peter, an imperfect man, to become the first leader of his church. Peter’s original name was Simon, but Christ renamed him Peter, which means “rock”. With that in mind I began thinking about this reflection and what I wanted to say. As I tossed the word “rock” around in my head, trying to relate it to my own experience, I began to smile.
You see, I am in a recovery program and when I stumbled upon it some thirty years ago, I heard the phrase “rock bottom” used frequently. It means that each person, before they can turn their life around, has to plummet to the very depths. He or she has to arrive at a point of despair and then be willing to surrender totally. And out of that despair,he or she needs to find a certain level of humility laced with a goodly dose of courage in order to ask for help.
So “rock bottom” tends to have a rather negative meaning attached to it. It’s kind of like a necessary evil. It’s a really bad, difficult place one has to get to before any good can come about. But the more I thought about it I realized that reaching rock bottom could be viewed very differently. Rock bottom could be seen as a place of firmness, of stability, and of strength. But before getting down to that base line of solid rock I had to clear away all the mud and filth and muck of my previous lifestyle.
In Ephesians 4:17-19 (yes, I’m going to quote a bit more Bible!!), Paul encourages us to turn our backs on our old way of life. "….you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God ……… they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess.”
Ouch!! I don’t know about any of you, but that struck a chord with me. That was how I was living before I turned my life around. So I had to do some house-cleaning. I had to change old behaviors and attitudes. I had to look into all the nooks and crannies, all the hidden recesses, and dig out all those dark secrets that I had been carrying around for years and throw them out. It reminded me of a song back in the sixties or seventies (may have been Kenny Rogers) that talked about the skeletons that we keep “chained to the walls of the dungeons in our minds”. Once this was done I had my firm rock on which I could build my new life.
Therefore just as Christ called upon Peter to be the rock upon which he intended to build his church (and “church” for those of you who do not worship in a specific religion can mean whatever decent way of life you are called to live), so I believe he calls upon each and every one of us to become that rock. Let’s keep that in mind. Let’s be encouraged to be decent human beings. Let’s keep our house clean and that rock cleared of debris so that Christ can use us to his purpose. Let’s be strong with each other so that “all the powers of hell will not conquer (us).”