Monday, February 22, 2010

The Chair of St. Peter

February 22 is the day that the Roman Catholic church celebrates the Chair of St. Peter. Here is the Gospel reading for today:

Matthew 16:13-19

Then Jesus went into parts of Caesarea Philippi. And he questioned his disciples, saying, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?”

And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, and others say Elijah, still others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Jesus said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter responded by saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And in response, Jesus said to him: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father, who is in heaven.

And I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.

And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound, even in heaven. And whatever you shall release on earth shall be released, even in heaven.”

Of course, Peter went on to deny Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. Peter could have been a good Unitarian Universalist. He wasn't sure who Jesus was, or what He was, and Peter was scared to death so Peter denied Him. He certainly wasn't going down with Him when the proverbial shit hit the fan.

You gonna love Peter. He is portrayed as the salt of the earth, the common man. Peter, I think, was on a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Did Peter really say what Matthew says he said in response to Jesus' question? And even if he did, what does it mean to say that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God? We all are sons and daughters of the Living God, aren't we, and we are all called to save the world. Jesus is special because He led by example. Would I be willing to suffer and die for my Unitarian Universalist faith? I don't know for sure, but I think I might if I was ever put in that position. I know I would rather be killed than to kill. I know that the truth sets me free and to deny the truth is soul murder and I wouldn't want to live if I couldn't be honest about what I see as being of essential genuineness to me.

The other part of this remembrance today is that Jesus supposedly made Peter the head of the church. These statements by Jesus supposedly give the Pope his authority. What did Jesus mean when He supposedly said to Peter that he was rock upon which He would build his church, and that He would give Peter the keys to heaven, and what Peter would bind on earth would be bound in heaven and what would be released on earth would be released in heaven?

Remember, Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God, heaven, is within you. Jesus was not talking about temporal authority. Jesus was talking, probably, about Peter's role as a teacher, and yet Peter denied Jesus three times, and so it leaves us in an ambiguous situation in assessing Peter's authority.

Unitarian Universalists do not believe in the Pope's infallibility and they even seem to view the Pope's teaching ability with a jaundice eye. A great deal of what the Roman Catholic church teaches about the role of women, reproductive rights, the role of clergy, its governance, leaves a lot to be desired or is just plain wrong. But then again, the Roman Catholic church's teachings on social justice, the poor, and the way to God often are right and helpful.

Like any other human institution the Roman Catholic church is imperfect and its teachings about the Chair of Peter I think are wrong and that's why I have become a Unitarian Universalist. I do love Peter though. He is my kind of guy, an impulsive bungler, but down to earth and with a heart as big as a barn. That Jesus would pick such a person to lead His church should give us all hope as long as we don't take Peter and his ilk too seriously.

And dear reader if you have read this far I wonder if you are thinking what I am thinking? The President of the UUA's name is Peter. What's up with that?

This is article #2 in a series on UURC.

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