|"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven"|
In the gospels last week and this week, the location of the stories were crucial for setting the stage. Last week Jesus travelled into the region of Tyre and Sidon, non Jewish areas, where he encountered the Canaanite woman. That location allowed Jesus to have a very frank discussion with her. Today, we still find Jesus traveling in non-Jewish areas. Today, we saw Jesus enter the region of Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi was a Roman town, not a Jewish one, so here Jesus is able to have a conversation that he couldn't have when he was down in Galilee or Jerusalem where all the Jewish crowds might listen in.
Because Jesus needs to talk about something big. This question that he poses to the disciples is not just casual conversation. Such a question could start a riot down in Jerusalem, so he traveled far out of his way to discuss it. "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?", and then "But who do you say that I am?" These questions obviously go to the heart of Jesus' identity, but almost as importantly, they go to the heart of the apostles' identity, and the heart of our identity as well. Because to answer this question about who Jesus is might make demands on who I am and what I am doing with my life. If Jesus is God, then that means I'm not. If Jesus is God, then he is in charge of everything.
So the people, those ambiguous people out there, have made up their minds. Jesus is probably a prophet of this or that sort. In the Old Testament, most of the prophets were good, but there were a few bad eggs in there. So if Jesus is a prophet, he might be worth listening to, but he might turn out to be one of the bad eggs. He could be right just as much as he could be wrong, so I'll listen to his message, but I'll reserve judgment for myself.
But Peter gets it right: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." In acknowledging this, this fact that was not revealed to him by flesh and blood, but only by the heavenly Father, it seems that Peter is setting the course for the rest of his life. Because if I say Jesus is a prophet, that means I still get to live my own life in my own way, but to say that he's the Son of God places obligations on me. It means that everything in my life has to be measured against him. It means that the things he says are not mere suggestions but actual commandments. It means I might have to reorient my whole life to account for this new reality, that God is right in front of me, and I am not alone.
At this point, Peter had no idea what was coming for him in his life. He only knew that Jesus was in fact the Son of the Living God. He maybe didn't know it before, but he knows it now. And Jesus takes this acknowledgement and indeed uses it to transform Peter's life. Look at what he does to Peter: he makes him the rock of the new Church, the sure foundation of this edifice of people that will never fall, a Church that hell itself cannot topple, try as they might, and he puts into his hands the power to forgive sins, the very power of God. Yes, Peter certainly had his life course altered when he acknowledged Jesus to be God.
Similarly for us, when we consciously acknowledge Jesus as God and everything that implies, either at our baptism or later in life, nothing can be the same. If he is God, then everything in my life has to be oriented towards him. This may call us in a couple of different ways, depending on where we're at in our own lives. This acknowledgement that Jesus is God requires that every decision in my life be oriented towards him. This is a daily work. I have no illusions that acknowledging Jesus as God once, which sounds a bit like accepting him as my personal lord and savior, is a one-and-done sort of thing. Each and every day, I need to acknowledge Jesus' divine sovereignty over my life, and every day, I need to work to make every decision I make be one that brings me closer to him.
And he wants our sins because here in this passage he has given us the remedy for it. Here in this passage we get to the heart of what God wants to do about sin. He gives Peter the keys to heaven and earth, to bind and loose sin. It's like coming into dirty heart armed to the teeth with mops, vacuums, dusting cloths, cleaners, and everything else you can think of. He wants Peter and the other apostles to be his representatives and to go around loosing people from their sins.
And he didn't just want that to happen in first century Palestine. but he wanted it to continue down to the present time. So he made sure that the rock that is Peter would continue in the Pope, and the keys that he had would continue to be used in the sacrament of Confession. So whenever the world feels like too much, acknowledge who is God. It's Jesus, and not you, so you don't have to solve everything or have all the answers. Run to the rock that Jesus established, and run to the keys that loose us from our sins.