ON Scripture: To Be A Rock in a World Adrift (Matthew 16:13-20) By Karyn L. Wiseman

To Be A Rock in a World Adrift (Matthew 16:13-20)

By Karyn L. Wiseman


It seems like every morning when I wake up the news startles me to some extent. I have several apps on my phone that post the breaking news and when I get up I look to see what's happened overnight. Some mornings I look as soon as I get downstairs and get to my phone (no, I do not take it to bed with me). There are times when I wait as late as I can to look - especially lately. Some days I can't even look at all, but I usually give in eventually. I'm a "news junky" after all.

Sometimes it's a tweet storm from the President that shakes me from my morning comfort. Sometimes it's a natural disaster that causes the death of hundreds or even thousands that vibrates the core of the earth around us. Sometimes it's a terror attack that rattles my nerves and those around the globe at the vulnerability we face daily in public spaces. And sometimes we wake up to literally find out a chunk of a continent has broken off and is floating out into the ocean, even if ever so slowly.

This happened recently when a part of an ice shelf separated from the continent of Antarctica. A piece of the earth broke off a continent. Literally the earth moved.

If you have a globe - it's not completely accurate anymore. If you think you know what the world's continents are shaped like - you're now wrong. It was that big of an event.

Everything we thought we knew about the world changed in that moment. Nothing will be the same again. Scientists have warned about this type of event for decades. They have said that chunks this big would break off. And one finally did. People will debate why-although I don't think it's debatable because clearly at the very least regional warming and elements of climate change caused it. A piece of Mother Earth broke away from itself.

I imagine some of you didn't even hear the news. Others, heard it and then went about your lives with little impact on your day to day choices. Still others reacted with shock and a deeper commitment to fight for climate justice and a renewed advocacy for Mother Earth. Wherever you are on this spectrum, the reality remains - the earth shook that day and changed forever.

What does it mean when things this monumental happen and many of us don't even know it happened? What does it mean when it very likely does nothing to change the way most people behave? Well, one reason is that the impact of climate change will impact the poor more than others across the globe. People living on the edges of society are more likely to be harmed by global shifts than any other group on the planet. We must plan and be prepared to act on behalf of others whose lives will be made worse by these shifts.

Jesus, in this text is preparing his disciples for an earth shaking and life changing ministry. The earth is going to shift under their feet with all that they are going to experience with him in the work to come. He wants them to be prepared. He wants to know if they are ready. And he wants to know if the people are ready to accept his authority. So, he asks his disciples a question to see what they are hearing out in the world.

"Who do people say I am?" he asks. (v. 13)

They answer him with a variety of answers in verse 14, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

He asks them, "But who do you say I am?" (v. 15)

And here's where Peter, the Rock, comes in. He says loudly, proudly, and clearly, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (v. 16) It's the first time in Matthew that he is called the Christ by someone in the text.

Folks, this is a bold statement during a time when Jesus' identity as the Messiah is just being recognized by many. He needed to gauge this as he moved into the next phase of his ministry, heading toward Jerusalem and his death.

Calling Peter, "the Rock" and claiming it is upon him that Jesus will build his church is an often-misunderstood part of this text. (v. 18) This text does not say that Peter will be the foundation of the church, although he will be an important leader in that church. Instead it is his statement, his testimony, his belief in the divinity of Jesus that will become the founding "rock" of the church.

But still there were those who would not believe. They were adrift like a big chunk of ice floating off the coast of Antarctica. They could not wrap their heads around a God who would come to be with them in person. They doubted. They feared. There was too much shifting under their feet to trust the new guy.

Many of the institutions we have trusted in for our entire lives are shifting right under our feet - our churches, our schools, our government, our banks, and our businesses are shifting. We often don't feel like we can trust them anymore.  How do we trust when the literal ground is breaking off underneath us? We hear of governmental scandals, banking misdeeds, churches refusing to welcome strangers into their midst, pastors abusing their powers, schools abdicating their responsibilities, and the list goes on and on and on. It's distressing, especially for those living on the margins of society.

We're going to continue to get earth shattering news about the institutions around us. We're going to continue to get chunks of earth crumbling beneath us.

I believe we're called to be Peters in the world. Proclaiming our belief in God. Calling each other to faithful discipleship. Being supportive and loving is what we are called to do. Holding each other up and encouraging one another is part of our job as Jesus followers. Supporting the last, the least, the lost, and the left behind is our mission.

Jesus' response in verse 20 has always baffled me somewhat. He tells his disciples to keep silent about his identity. That might have been ok for that moment and at that time. But not for today. People, we need to speak up with our words and with our actions. The negative messages and hate-filled folks are too often winning the day right now on the news and in Social Media. We need to show the side of Christianity and faithfulness that is kind and welcoming. We need to be the voice that offers a place of safety when the ice or earth is shifting right under our feet.

The best evangelism statement I've seen lately is from a Facebook post. "Tell people you're a Christian, then don't be a jerk." Be bold, be kind, be loving. Be a rock. Hold on tight, it's a bumpy ride out there. You may be the only rock someone else has to hold onto.

And if you're looking for a rock to hold on to - look for a Christian or a person of faith not being a jerk. There's a bunch of us out here trying our best to be there for you.




Reflection Questions:

  1. When you feel like your trust has been battered, who do you go to restore your faith in others? In institutions? In the church?

  2. How have you been a "rock" for others in the past when the earth shifted under your feet? Who has been your rock?

  3. What are the core issues that are important for you in justice matter, especially related to climate matters? Water, oceans, clean energy?


For Further Reading :

What Does the Antarctic Ice Shelf Break Really Mean? -Scientific America

Scientists Fear Trump Will Dismiss Blunt Climate Report - NY Times

Climate Change: The Poor Will Suffer Most - The Guardian


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