Secrets | Matthew 16:13-20
Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead. —Benjamin Franklin
In this Gospel scene, Jesus commands his followers not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah. He is blunt. Direct. There is no explanation.
It may be that Jesus knew swearing people to secrecy is one of the best ways to distribute information. If you have picked the right confidants, then your work is done—pretty soon everyone will know what you told them. It’s an efficient system. Try it in any church and see how well it works.
It could also be that Jesus saw that this odd group of followers were not the best representatives of the gospel—not at this point anyway. Simon Peter, standing there with his great shaggy head and fisherman’s hands, was likely to blurt out anything, and he probably resembled a lunatic more than a leader of the faithful.
When Simon Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus tells Simon that this understanding came directly from God, which is a sideways method of saying that Simon himself doesn’t have that much insight. Just three verses later, after telling his followers to keep his identity a secret, Jesus turns on Simon and calls him Satan for interfering.
These followers are not too solid. They aren’t bedrock.
Nevertheless, Jesus gives Simon a name that has become famous—Peter, the Rock. Jesus even claims that he will build the church on this odd foundation, Peter the unshaped rock, the loose cannon on the deck of the gospel ship.
It is the grace of the gospel message. Jesus calls an unlikely group of people, men and women of uneven talents and unlikely temperaments, and makes something out of them. The important point is that Jesus is the one doing the building. If we start tacking on rooms, we’ll make something like the Winchester Mystery House in California, with stairways to nowhere and doorways to nothing.
It is better to have faith that God is building something, despite us.
There is also the oddity of the keys. Jesus tells Peter that he will have the keys of the kingdom of heaven, to bind or to loose, with effect in this world and in the heavenly world. A lot of people, very much like Simon Peter in many ways, have written a great deal about the meaning and the power of the keys: most of it has come down to authority.
People love authority. They don’t love responsibility.
In ancient times, a trusted servant was as likely as the master to be the one carrying around the key ring. Who wants to carry the cumbersome, jingly things around when you can get someone else to keep track of them? But even so, who has the authority, and who has the responsibility—the one carrying the key or the one knowing how to use it?
A little farther along in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives the same power of binding and setting free to all of the disciples who are listening (v18:18). What does that say about the distribution of authority? The gospel message shares the power of setting people free as well as the grace of finding what they have lost.
Perhaps when Jesus told the disciples not to go around telling people that he was the Messiah, Jesus was thinking along the same lines as Francis of Assisi centuries later. Sometimes our words can’t be heard over the noise of our lives. Jesus may have been waiting, shaping the lives of the disciples, so that when they did share the good news, someone might actually have reason to listen.