(CollectiveMKE follows the RCL lectionary -these thoughts correlate to the readings of Proper 16, Year A - Track 2
“...I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” - Jesus (Matthew 16:13-20)
"Binding + Loosing" was a process the ancient Rabbi's used to interpret their tradition and scripture. Each Rabbi would be from a particular school of thought on what was allowed (loosed) and restricted (bound). Much like religious people today, Rabbi's would often debate what should be permitted or restricted - which is why Jesus is asked questions like, "What is the greatest commandment" in the Bible. Since Jesus was a Rabbi, people wanted to know where he stood on the hot topics of their day.
Given that context, let’s explore three different and important ways Jesus word’s to Peter shape the responsibilities that go with being a Christian. All these responsibilities are crazy challenging in themselves, but even more so because of how divided that the “one body” of Christ is.
First: One of our core identities/metaphors as CollectiveMKE is a keychain. This passage is where that metaphor came from. God has given the church the keys to unlocking “the kingdom.” In other words - we have what we need to address the issues of the world and to unlock a different and better future. The problem is that the keys are not evenly distributed and we are bad at sharing. Well - those are a few of the issues. If every Christian in the greater MKE area were to share their keys and work together - imagine the new world we could unlock. Doors like poverty and segregation and injustice could be opened, and we could together enter a new connected world - if only we could find the will to work together.
Secondly, the One Church of Christ has a responsibility - to discern the shape and nature of following Jesus in its day. Binding and loosing in this sense is about interpreting and reinterpreting the Biblical tradition to come to maturity in understanding the God it reveals. There are three critical dimensions of this: The ancient tradition as recorded by scripture, the historical tradition, and the living Body today. Together these are the great cloud of witnesses. The Church today is called to discern what it means to follow Jesus - steeped in the living priesthood with its present divine experiences, the scriptures as the authorized account of our founding experiences and also the wisdom of those who have gone before us. In other words, we stand on the shoulders of the Bible and previous generations of Christianity. The formative experiences recorded in the Bible were carried forward through the ages and brought into focus by the living Church today. As an example consider slavery. Slavery was not fully “loosed” by the close of the Bible (there is no passage outlawing it directly and many passages that talk about how to manage your slaves or masters). For 2000 years our tradition continued to work with what was written and eventually came to see the evils of slavery as incompatible with the Bible’s revelation of humanity. It is the historical and living church that has “finished” this work of loosing. Or perhaps better to say, the living church bore the fruit that took hundreds of years to ripen. Further, it is the living Church’s responsibility to find and prune any “unfruitful vines” on this particular matter so they too can become mature with the ripe fruit of justice. We must “get political” to the degree necessary to expose evil thinking behind slavery and also being all its present manifestations (segregation, white supremacy, mass incarceration, racism, etc.) - many of which use the Bible to justify their evils. This is only one of the many places the living community is responsible for discerning the nature and shape of following Jesus today. We have much more work to do and all of our insights and wisdom and growth are desperately needed.
Finally, a third way of understanding this passage and its keys that bind and loose is to consider debts and forgiveness. When we collectively hold onto debts or grudges - particularly past grievances - we cannot move on. A word of caution though - it is often holding onto past justifications that limits our collective ability to heal. When we continue to employ the justifications of our ancestors for our sins inflicted on each other, we have not yet set them free. When we admit that we have sinned (collectively and that we benefit from the sins of our ancestors) we open the door and loose the pain memories to be expressed and to find restoration and healing. Further, when we set people free from our grudges and debts we can all move on. Loosing is not simply saying I forgive you - it is all of the work required to help everyone move on. This is tremendously hard work - with is why so much remains bound in our world.
To wrap this all up: To use our kingdom keys effectively - to bind and loose faithfully, we will have to find what Paul is speaking to in Romans 12 - the renewed mind of faith. Not minds caught up in the prejudice and fear and hate and feuds of our era - but minds shaped by Holy Spirit, connected to the living church and standing on the tradition of the Scriptures carried to us by the great cloud of witnesses that came before us. Let us do more than read our prejudices back into the Bible seeing God as hating who we hate and agreeing with our every preference - Rather let us allow the mirror of Christ to lead us to all that is good and acceptable and perfect -and especially to love.
How would you summarize the three ways the living church “binds + looses” with kingdom keys?
- Which connected with you the most? Why?
- Where do we need to unlock the kingdom in our day?
- Where does the Biblical tradition need to be carried further in our time?
- Where do forgiveness and honesty need to be “loosed” so doors of systemic sin and the guilt and pain that goes with it be brought into the light, talked about and healed?