Saturday, August 20, 2005

Proper 16, Year A: Origen on Peter and the Church

When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 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." Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Matthew 16:13-20, NRSV

If we say what Peter said, not by revelation of flesh and blood, but by the light from the Father in Heaven having illumined our hearts, we ourselves become as Peter, and are blessed like him, because of the very reasons for which he was blessed have extended to us . . . if we have said what Peter did, by light shining into our heart from the Father in Heaven, we become a Peter, and to us might be said by the Word, 'Thou art Peter' . . . For a Rock is every disciple of Christ (from Whom they drank) who drank of the spiritual Rock following them; and on every such Rock is built the whole message of the Church, and the corresponding mode of life; for in every one of the perfect who have the sum of the words and deeds and thoughts which complete blessedness, is the Church that is built by God.

Origen, Commentary on Matthew, Tome xii. 9-10.

This quote highlights one of the great gifts of Origen: his ability to read Scripture in a deeply personal way. Many of us are accustomed to hearing this story of Peter's confession and blessing as story about another person. Many of us are accustomed to think that this is about Peter, and then maybe the Bishop of Rome, or maybe our parish priest. Certainly it is these folks upon whom the church is built, certainly it is these folks who are given the blessing and power to bind and loose sins.

But Origen, engaging the primacy of Peter (a connection he makes much more explicit in the text that follows this short quote), claims Peter's confession and blessing not just for Peter and his ecclesiastical heirs. It is not just for Peter to say to Jesus, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God," nor is the blessing given only to church leaders. Origen claims this confession, and blessing, for all Christians.

But Origen, despite his claim that this story belongs to each individual Christian, does not set aside the fact that this story is also about the church. Yes, this confession reveals the illumination of the heart of the person, and this illumination reveals a personal blessing, the same blessing that Peter receives. So we also are called Peter, the Rock. And each of us is a disciple, and live the Christian life, because we confess. But, Origen also interprets this story in a corporate way: it is upon each of us, confessors, that the life and message of the whole church is built.

And this is Christian blessedness, according to Origen: to be complete in how we act, what we say, and what we think and believe. And upon these, the confessors and the disciples of Christ, the ones who say that "Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God," is built the genuine church, from the inside out.


Blogger Ruth said...

I'm just dropping in to say hi... no time to read your latest juicy entry right now... I'll save it for after the kids are in bed tonight! You're always good for a late night read!


Saturday, August 20, 2005 3:48:00 PM  

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