Year A 21st Sunday: Matthew 16:13-20

16:13   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?'

16:14   And they said, 'Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah,

and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.'

16:15   'But you,' he said, 'who do you say I am?'

16:16   Then Simon Peter spoke up and said,

'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'

16:17   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.

16:18   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.

16:19   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.'

16:20   Then he gave the disciples strict orders

not to say to anyone that he was the Christ.

Context & Information

How could Peter know that Jesus was the Messiah. Let us go back to the 11th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. There the disciples of John the Baptist come to Jesus with the question if he really was the one whom they were to expect. Jesus answered: ‘Go back and tell John what you hear and see: the blind see again, and the lame walk, those suffering from virulent skin-diseases are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.’ That answer was a quote from the prophet Isaiah. That quote spoke about the coming of the Messianic times.

As one of Jesus’ disciples, Peter had witnessed that Jesus did what the quote said. In him the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled, came to pass. So he must be the Messiah.


Note that these two men give each other a declaration of love. Peter says that he sees in the inside of Jesus much more than was to be seen on the outside: ‘You are the Messiah.’ And Jesus – in turn - says that he sees in the inside of Peter much more than a normal person saw on the outside: ‘You are my rock, my foundation.’ They are looking at each other through eyes of love.

What Jesus says to Peter is almost unbelievable, ‘God in heaven will respect and follow your decisions.’ How can he say that? Jesus is convinced that the spirit that spoke through the mouth, the heart of Peter is the same spirit that descended from heaven upon him on the occasion of his baptism... As long as Peter listens to that spirit and speaks the words and does the deeds inspired by that spirit, he brings heaven upon earth.

Don’t tell...

For the time being Jesus forbids his disciples to claim that he is the Messiah. Why? Should they now proclaim him to be the Messiah people might think that Jesus was a success story. In Jewish culture people expected that the Messiah would change the world into a paradise. This was not the way of Jesus’ Messianic mission. First it had to be clear that this Messiah had to go the way of the Suffering Servant. Only after that were they allowed to proclaim him to be the Messiah. That is what Jesus says immediately after Peter’s confession.

Picture Meditation

The artist pictures both declarations of love. On the Left Peter on his knees looking up to Jesus saying, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Looking at the gestures of the hands of Peter and Jesus I try to find words for Peter’s emotions and for the way Jesus receives his confession.

Peter seems to speak on behalf of the people behind him. In the top left corner I have the impression that John the Baptist is among them. And maybe some prophets as well? What are their hands expressing?

On the right we see Peter again, on his knees before Jesus. The moment is pictured when Jesus says, So now I 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. I give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven...’ Peter has the keys in his right hand. With closed eyes he receives Jesus’ words as a blessing. On this side we see many more people behind Peter. Immediately behind him a disciple in pink and a disciple in two different shades of green; just as they are pictured on the left side. The disciple in pink appears to be a woman. Mary Magdalene? Peter receives the keys of heaven for the benefit of the people behind him. He may open the gates of heaven for them.

At the bottom of the painting we see the illustration of Jesus words: ‘And the gates of the underworld can never overpower it.’ On the right: Jesus in a cloud of yellow light. Before him we see dead people, the more we look to the left the more they are skeletons. According to a very old legend Jesus - at the moment of his death - would have gone - on the inside of death - to the underworld (‘hell’); he would have trampled the gates of hell under his feet and would have led all the dead people of earlier times to the light of the resurrection. In the background of the painting there is a golden sun, symbol of the precious warmth of God’s presence.

I try to find out if there is a person with whom I can identify myself.

Did I ever receive a gift the way Peter receives it? Which ‘keys’ are entrusted to me?

Finally I speak to Peter, to Jesus...