Matthew 16: 13-20
There was no more stunning and yet horrific image in the news this week than that of James Foley and his assassin. Just the extremes of humanity that were exposed at that very moment as he kneels down, appearing totally at peace with life and death and his killer driven by fear and death and how the two stood opposite one another was, well, a moment that just made me speechless. After listening to Jim’s family, it was obvious that he had reached the depths of his being and somehow managed to find the reconciliation between the parts of himself to be able to kneel before there as he did. Ironically, his parents noted, that they believed it was his experience of working with the vulnerable, the poor of society that made him the person that he was and showed the world.
If we can say anything, in relation to this Gospel that we just heard, is that this was a man that exuded that inner freedom and power and has found the true voice of authority, the divine indwelling within himself. The outside world and all its voices no longer impacted his life, unlike the one who would then take his life.
Jesus hands that authority onto Peter in today’s Gospel, but maybe more importantly is the ending of this reading where he tells Peter and the other disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Christ. As much as Jesus knew that it was revealed to him from somewhere and someone other than Peter himself, it’s safe to say that it was still more a head knowledge and hadn’t yet been made a part of his very being and in his heart. It’s still being handed to him from the outside, but the journey to find that true power and authority is one that takes us inward, where we so often don’t want to go. We have to work through our own “stuff” before we can reach that point. For us and the disciples, it’s making the journey to the cross as they have been told, but not simply an event out there somewhere and something to be witnessed, rather, something to be lived and to be realized within. We can try to change the outside world as much as we want, but if we aren’t willing to go within and change within ourselves, our community, and certainly our country, well, so much is for nought. You can change the facade of a building all you want, but if the interior isn’t changed, there’s not much long-term point.
In seeking that inner power and authority, Jesus takes the disciples to Ceasarea Philippi. It is the center of worldly power. As they look out they see the rock, which Peter becomes in the gospel, and on that rock sits the temple of Caesar. The seat of authority. But Caesar ruled with fear and anxiety. Caesar hadn’t yet found that true voice and power and in turn the people payed dearly so often with their lives, just as James Foley did this week, by people who think they have power. Yet, if you have to go looking for it or have to take it from others, as they tried to do from him, you really don’t have it. You have the illusion of power, false power.
My friends, we pray today that we have the courage to go where Jesus has gone, the disciples have gone, where Jim Foley had gone at some point in his life and then ultimately this week, a martyr in the truest sense of the word. The more you make the authentic journey of discovery of the inner authority, the divine indwelling, the more you will see just how bankrupt the world can be, clamoring for something that isn’t even real. We have been give many examples. Yes, there are those outside authorities that we listen to and at times follow, but true power, first, lies within every one of us gathered here today and in this world, ready to be tapped when we’re ready to participate in the inward journey. Those two men, albeit extreme in many ways, are us and we can make choices on faith and fear. However, when we find that power and authority, the divine indwelling, we change and ultimately, the world changes with us, and for the better.