Matthew 16:21-23 17:1-13

Gospel Readings:

Matthew 16:21-23
Matthew 16:24-28
Matthew 17:1-13

Devotion 1

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, allowing space for God’s voice to be heard.

Read: Matthew 16:21-23

Peter’s declaration of Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” (16:16) is surely the high point of the Gospel so far. Peter, so Matthew’s audience understand, has at last recognised Jesus for who he is—the liberator of Israel and true authority over the people. What comes next then—as those of us who’ve read the story many times before need to remind ourselves—is truly shocking. For Jesus does not speak of strategies to overthrow the oppressive powers. He does not call his followers to violent revolution, as other messianic figures did. Rather, Jesus will go to the heart of power in the region—Jerusalem—to confront the ruling authorities’ abuse and exploitation of the poor of Galilee. Moreover, Jesus won’t seek to be crowned a popular king in order to incite the people to violent takeover. Rather, he will absorb all of the violence that the ruling powers will muster in their anxious bid to silence him.

Peter, of course, did not see this coming when he boldly proclaimed Jesus as Messiah. He could only imagine that the Messiah would bring liberation through violence, but Jesus denounces his thinking in the strongest terms: “Get behind me Satan!” The way of God, says Jesus, can never be the way of violent triumph. It is the way of prophetic suffering.

Reflect:

  • Imagine yourself as one of the disciples in this story. What do you think you would feel hearing Jesus’ speak of his suffering and death?
  • Consider your reaction to the rule of oppressive powers. In what ways does it reflect “human things”? In what ways does it reflect “divine things”?

Pray

Share Communion 

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 

Devotion 2

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, aware of God’s presence in a broken world.

Read: Matthew 16:24-28

Having denounced Peter’s triumphant Messianic expectations, Jesus now continues to up the stakes: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” This call to discipleship would surely have struck terror into the hearts of any who heard it. For this small rag-tag band of people, hopeful for liberation from a regime built on coercion and the threat of violence, “taking up their cross” was no metaphorical term. Crucifixion was the way that political dissidents—those who challenged the authority of those above them—were executed. It was a gruesome public spectacle designed to send a message to any who might dream of more just power arrangements—don’t mess with Rome.

The way of discipleship, Jesus told his followers, is not about a triumphant and forceful transformation of the world. It is about sharing in Jesus’ suffering. Sharing, as Jesus did, in solidarity with those on the underside of power. Sharing in their hunger and thirst for justice. Sharing in the struggle for a more just world. And in doing so, sharing in Jesus’ uncompromising decision to suffer violence rather than inflict it upon others.

Reflect:

  • Can you think of examples of prophetic suffering in the face of oppressive powers?
  • In what ways is God’s Spirit challenging you to take up your cross?

Pray for one another.

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 

Devotion 3

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of repentance together, aware of our inadequacy and God’s grace.

Read: Matthew 17:1-13

Matthew’s narrative thus far has told of Jesus of Nazareth, through whom God’s transforming and liberating activity of healing, exorcising and teaching has been displayed. The disciples have struggled to recognise his identity, and at last, when they have—as in the episode just prior at Caesarea Philippi—they still have been unable to grasp his true nature. Now, as Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a mountain (something important always happens up mountains in Matthew’s Gospel), they are about to witness a stunning revelation.

Moses and Elijah stand with Jesus, attesting to Jesus’ prophetic ministry. Jewish tradition promised that God would raise up a prophet like Moses, in whose mouth God would put his own words to speak “everything that I command” (Deut 18:15-22). And the prophet Malachi, immediately after exhorting the people to remember the teaching of Moses, spoke of Elijah coming again to “turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse” (Mal 4:6).

Just as happened at Jesus’ baptism, so again the heavenly voice speaks: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” Jesus, not any other ruling power claiming divine authority, is God’s Son. Not only that, but the heavenly words speak of the nature of God’s relationship with Jesus—one of love and pleasure. And just as the Jewish tradition commanded the people to “heed such a prophet” (Deut 18:15), so the heavenly voice says, “listen to him!”

As Jesus and the disciples descend from the mountain, they raise the question of Elijah. Elijah has indeed come, Jesus tells the disciples, and finally, they understand him. Perhaps they were looking for someone to come in spectacular glory, to usher in “the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Mal 4:5). Elijah came, though, speaking prophetically to power and “dying under the weight of the evil he had denounced.”1 For this is the way of prophets. This is, too, the path Jesus will tread—perhaps now the disciples could understand that his clothes, dazzling white, were in fact the clothes of martyrdom. And this is the way of the cross.

Reflect:

  • What strikes you in today’s reading?
  • What significance do you think this reading might have had for Matthew’s community?
  • What challenges or encouragements do you hear in today’s reading?

Pray. for one another

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer

 

 1. Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone Part 2 (2002; repr., London: SPCK, 2004), 18.

Devotion 4

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of gratitude together, giving thanks for the ways you’ve experienced God’s loving kindness.

This week’s Common Value: Transformation

Read: Jeremiah 31:31-37

Ask:

  • What transformation do you long to see in your neighbourhood?
  • What transformation do you long to see in your own life?
  • Are there ways in which you sense God asking you to open yourself further to the transformation of the Spirit?

Pray

Share Communion

Close with the Lord’s Prayer