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Proper 16 | Ordinary Time 21, Cycle A

Sunday between August 21 and August 27 inclusive

Perhaps the factor that is most prominent in most of the six texts appointed for our consideration this coming weekend is the self-revelation of God and our human response to that self-revelation. It is in the Matthew 16:13-20 account that God is seen most clearly as revealing God’s self so that followers of Jesus may make the transition from their perception of Jesus as an amazing Jewish prophet and religious reformer to their perception of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God who lives eternally, and they respond to this self-revelation of God with their confession of faith and their praise to God.

Exodus 1:8–2:10
God is revealed in this text when the brave Israelite midwives are portrayed as risking their own lives by refusing to obey the command of the cruel Pharaoh to kill all of the baby boys who are born to Israelite women. God is revealed in this text when, by means of the ingenuity of the mother and sister of the baby Moses, God makes it possible for the baby Moses not only to survive but to be given the quality of education that only the most wealthy and most powerful Egyptians in that culture would receive. The human response to the self-revelation of God in this text is seen entirely in the bold initiatives of four women in this text: the two midwives, the mother of Moses, and the sister of Moses.

Psalm 124
It is said by the psalmist that had the Lord not revealed the Lord’s self when Israel was severely attacked by Israel’s enemies, Israel would have been swept away and would have ceased to exist. Israel’s response, as expressed by the psalmist, is to bless the Lord and acknowledge fully that the help for Israel comes only from the Lord.

Isaiah 51:1-6
As the Lord was revealed in bringing forth countless descendants of Abraham and of Sarah, the Lord will be revealed in bringing comfort, salvation, and prosperity to the renewed Israel after the exile. The response that is expected of Israel is to look up to accept and by faith to receive the salvation that the Lord provides.

Psalm 138
The glory of the Lord is revealed to all of the kings of the earth. It is to the lowly, however, to needy persons such as the psalmist that the Lord has the greatest regard! The only response that is adequate in view of the steadfast love and covenant faithfulness of the Lord is unconditional love and thanksgiving. The psalmist is grateful for the swiftness with which the Lord acts. “On the day that I called, you answered me!” No one can ask for more than that from God.

Romans 12:1-8
In response to God whom the Apostle Paul had depicted so eloquently in the Romans 11:33-36 text, Paul urged his readers to offer their total being as a living, consecrated, pleasing sacrifice to God. Each should respond with the unique, special gifts that God had given to that person. Each person should be transformed to discover that person’s gifts from God and respond by conforming to whatever is the will of God for that person, what is good and pleasing and perfect.

Matthew 16:13-20
Within the most significant portion of the Matthean additions to the Mark 8:27-33 account, we see the Matthean redactors were making a strong claim for Peter. In their “You are Peter,” or, partly in Greek, “You are Petros, and upon this petra I shall build my Church… and I shall give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” we see that at the time of the Matthean redaction of the Markan material, for some of the “mainline” followers of Jesus within the Synoptic traditions Peter had become a primary symbol of their own authority in what they now chose to call in the singular “the Church.” They were making authority claims, in effect, for themselves, using the gospel genre vehicle the Markan writer had developed. In this way, they were able to put their own authority claims into the context of Jesus’ public and private ministry with “the Twelve.”

Careful analysis of the Four Gospel traditions indicates that the Jesus of history probably had far more than twelve close followers during his lifetime, and there were many women who were as close to him as followers as any of the men were. The concept of “the Twelve” with Peter as their principal spokesperson was largely developed later within the Synoptic communities, in part because Peter was remembered as being quick to speak and quick to act and in part out of a desire to have a group of twelve male leaders to be comparable to the twelve sons of Jacob for the “new Israel” they were formulating.

Because of our growing awareness of the ways in which the communities of early followers of Jesus who developed and used the Synoptic Gospels and those who developed and used the Fourth Gospel established their own authority claims by lifting Peter and the “Beloved Disciple” respectively to the highest authority positions, perhaps it would be helpful for us to acknowledge this coming weekend that it is not Peter with his “keys to the kingdom of heaven,” but it is Jesus Christ who is “The Church’s One Foundation.” Perhaps with these texts we shall use this weekend, we should sing with the hymn writer Samuel Wesley that “The Church’s One Foundation Is Jesus Christ Her Lord,” with the Welsh folk song “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” and with the Swede Carl Boberg “How Great Thou Art!” and put less emphasis on Peter and “the Keys.” Jesus as the Christ and not Peter is the Church’s One Foundation, and it is the Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise to whom we sing How Great Thou Art! It would be appropriate this weekend to share some awareness with the members of the congregations in which we serve of the process by which the biblical accounts were formulated; that it was a process not unlike our own teaching and preaching preparation process, and then boldly proclaim Jesus Christ as the Church’s One Foundation and acclaim the greatness of God.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen