When I was a kid, I knew a bunch of guys who always had more keys than anybody else. Being the son of a teacher, I got to know the school’s janitors better than most, and Mr. Reevey had a ring of keys to rival just about anybody. But the man with the most keys (I think ever) is Mr. Preston, the longtime caretaker and Warden at Trinity in Red Bank. Between the church and his construction business, Mr. Preston has what looks like about 300 keys. He has so many that he has multiple rings attached to one of those cable things that come off your belt. It’s said that the guy with the most keys is the most important guy in the room, and I looked up to those guys. Maybe nowadays the most important people are the ones with network keys, or maybe it’s those people who actually understand how that technological stuff actually works. Keys are important; they grant access, they activate tools, they are, in fact, powerful symbols of responsibility and freedom, of commission and potency.
Like last week, this week we find Jesus and His disciples in a place where they wouldn’t have a key to anything, out in pagan lands. St. Matthew tells us that they were right outside of the city of Caesarea Philippi, which would be a very nice place if you were a Roman lawyer or if you worshiped Pan; the city was not without its power brokers, but some faithful were found there. If you remember the story of the woman who had a twelve-year bleeding problem, she was from there; she came to Jesus, touched the edge of His cloak, and she was healed. Well, that woman went home to her pagan city and erected a statue of Jesus, which stood for over 300 years. In the year 361, the Emperor Julian stripped that city of Christian symbols, and he went as far as to erect a statue of himself on the place where that woman’s statue stood. About sixty years later, the historian Sozomen wrote down what happened next: “a violent fire from the heaven fell upon it, and broke off the parts contiguous to the breast; the head and neck were thrown prostrate, and it was transfixed to the ground with the face downwards at the point where the fracture of the bust was; and it has stood in that fashion from that day until now, full of the rust of the lightning.” Apparently God was fond of that statue, or more likely, He was rather fond of the woman who erected it.
And so this was a bit of an odd place for Jesus and His disciples to roam off to, and it was there that they had an odd conversation. Jesus, sounding somewhat grand, asked the disciples who people said He was. Well, some people thought He was John the Baptist, and being cousins and all, maybe they did look similar. Some said Elijah back from heaven, some said Jeremiah but in a better mood. And then came the bigger question: who do you say I am? Peter’s answer was more than a statement of opinion. His answer became the first creed, and earned him the best and heaviest set of keys ever made.
“Who do you say that I am” is a weighty question coming from anyone, but when it comes from Jesus, it’s a showstopper. Your whole life is wrapped up in how you answer that question; not because your answer can change who Jesus is, but because your answer does change who you are. When Peter gave his answer to Jesus’ question, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter was changed; he became the Petros, the rock. No longer would he be just Simon bar Jonah, Simon the son of John, he would be the rock the Church is built upon, he would be the guy with all the keys jingling from his belt.
I think the greatest relief in Christian history is that when we answer like Peter did, we don’t have to be the rock on which Christ builds His church; we don’t have to be responsible for those keys. But that answer, that creedal statement that Jesus is Lord, it comes with its own set of responsibilities, its own freedoms, its own potency. When you proclaim Jesus as Lord you proclaim all that is wrapped up in that creed. His life and therefore the holiness of life. His suffering and sacrifice, and therefore the redemptive power of your own. His death, and therefore the holiness of Christian death. His resurrection and ascension, and therefore the hope of everlasting life with Him. When you proclaim that Jesus is Lord, you get a set of keys too, the keys to salvation for yourself and for everyone you meet. You get the key, you get access to the God who made all things and made you for His good pleasure. And you get a commission, a commission to take Jesus with you out into the world, so that everyone might know Him, so that everyone might know the joy you have in Jesus.