This blog follows the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church
Reading 1, Acts 12:1-11
1 It was about this time that King Herod started persecuting certain members of the church. 2 He had James the brother of John beheaded, 3 and when he saw that this pleased the Jews he went on to arrest Peter as well. 4 As it was during the days of Unleavened Bread that he had arrested him, he put him in prison, assigning four sections of four soldiers each to guard him, meaning to try him in public after the Passover.
5 All the time Peter was under guard the church prayed to God for him unremittingly.
6 On the night before Herod was to try him, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, fastened with two chains, while guards kept watch at the main entrance to the prison.
7 Then suddenly an angel of the Lord stood there, and the cell was filled with light. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him. ‘Get up!’ he said, ‘Hurry!’ — and the chains fell from his hands.
8 The angel then said, ‘Put on your belt and sandals.’ After he had done this, the angel next said, ‘Wrap your cloak round you and follow me.’ 9 He followed him out, but had no idea that what the angel did was all happening in reality; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed through the first guard post and then the second and reached the iron gate leading to the city. This opened of its own accord; they went through it and had walked the whole length of one street when suddenly the angel left him.
11 It was only then that Peter came to himself. And he said, ‘Now I know it is all true. The Lord really did send his angel and save me from Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.’
Gospel, Mt 16:13-19
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of man is?’ 14 And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’
15 ‘But you,’ he said, ‘who do you say I am?’
16 Then Simon Peter spoke up and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’
17 Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a blessed man! Because it was no human agency that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. 18 So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my community. And the gates of the underworld can never overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven: whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’
The Acts story is part of the legend of Peter, the great leader of the church community. It tells us two things: Peter is subject to persecution as the leader of the community, but he doesn’t run away; and God looks after his safety, for the moment.
When we know of so many true Christians, for example, in Iraq, who are being persecuted and killed, it’s difficult for us to accept the cosy legend of God’s angel, unless perhaps we see the “angel” as a particularly resourceful Christian, a diamond geezer, who knows the form, and gets Peter out of jail.
The gospels are united in recognising Peter’s faith in Jesus as Messiah. Mark tells us that nevertheless he fails to understand that Jesus will be a rejected Messiah. Matthew draws on a source which tells of Jesus’ response to Peter, promising him “the keys of the kingdom” that is, the means of entry into the kingdom, which Jesus Messiah will bring at his return. Binding and loosing can refer a) to binding the devil in exorcism b) to the power of excommunication c) to the authority to make decisions of matters of church policy.
It’s not clear which of these in meant, but Jesus in effect says that God will endorse the decisions Peter makes. In fact the disciples as a group are given this authority (18.18) but the authority is, as they say, awesome. Basically it means that God, who has called the church into being for the deliverance of humanity, has no plan B: if the church does the job badly, God will not intervene to correct it.
This is an astonishing doctrine, which challenges our thinking. God has entrusted his reputation to his church-is that wise?
The gospels agree on placing this incident at Caesarea Philippi, that is, at a centre of Imperial power. Peter’s faith recognises Jesus as thetrue king.