Eucharist – 13th Sunday after Trinity 6th September
Did you notice, when you read or heard today’s Gospel passage from Matthew, that one verse (18..18) is exactly the same as part of a verse we had the week before last? It goes like this: “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven? ” The first time round it was Jesus speaking to Peter, personally, on his appointment as the foundation of the Church; today it is addressed to all the members of the church, in a paragraph telling them what to do if they discover some other member has offended against God’s holy law. Why repeat the words, only a couple of chapters apart? What has happened in between?
Peter, you will recall, got the job of leading the brand-new church, but all too soon (as Fr Philip put it last week) really “put his foot in it”, by trying to dissuade Jesus from turning to Jerusalem, to meet his death on the Cross, and all that would follow: which is to say, his fulfilment of his Father’s purpose, and so our redemption from sin. Having made such a blunder, something, somehow, must have reassured him to carry on, at all, as he did: even though it got worse before it got better, as we shall see. But, only a week after this terrible error (Matthew tells us in ch17, which you haven’t missed, since it isn’t set for a Sunday) God gives Peter jolly good cause to believe, after all, Christ’s promise of the glory to come in his kingdom. He lets Peter (and James and John) see that glory, revealed in advance, on the occasion we now call the Transfiguration. That’s the one where they go high up a mountain, see Christ revealed in dazzling light, and hear him again identified by the Father as his beloved Son, as once he had at his baptism. Then, Jesus was sent out into the wilderness to prepare for his ministry by learning to resist temptation: this time he gives notice not to tell anyone until after his death, and Resurrection. You see how the same ideas weave in and out? Peter recognised Christ as Christ, got ahead of himself, nearly blew it, yet heard (still) of the kingdom to come. Whatever else the Transfiguration was about, it showed Peter again in a way quite without doubt who Jesus really and truly was: further evidence, for someone feeling sheepish, and rather guilty, given before two other reliable witnesses – Jesus’s (perhaps) “cousins”, James and John. Those two may have known him since he was a baby – and yet here he was, in all his glory, briefly, giving their friend Peter assurance even the Cross wouldn’t question. Look! Listen! he is who he is, after all: so (as it says in 17.7) “Don’t be afraid”
Back to today. Jesus is teaching his disciples how to deal with problems. First, try a quiet word between friends: keep the quarrel to yourselves, so the body doesn’t split into sides. But if that doesn’t work, take into account the evidence of at least a couple of witnesses: a principle going right back to the O.T., and still crucial in legal cases today. It isn’t all up to only Peter, as it was not for Moses: God appoints all his faithful to guard against any such error as might disfigure the whole; which company of the baptised is called to “Shine as a light in the world”.