Keys to the Kingdom

21 August 2011
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 16A (RCL)
Exodus 1:8-2:10
Psalm 124
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

The story of the little baby Moses in the Nile River is actually a very humorous story, even though it is set in the midst of political oppression that amounts to genocide. Any number of cultures have a myth of the divine birth of the King. The child destined to become king comes from unknown circumstances, and so his birth is assumed to be divine. In the Mesopotamian cultures, some of those stories involve the king, as an infant, floating down the river. The writer of the story of Moses steals that story and changes it so that the reader of the story knows where the child comes from, even though Pharaoh’s daughter does not. And his birth is divine in the sense that he comes from God’s chosen people, but those despised by the Egyptians. Remembering that this story was put into the Bible while the Jews were in Exile in Babylon (Mesopotamia), the Jews would have smiled knowingly when they heard it.

It has always amazed me that we have the full collection of Hebrew people. Usually the winners write history, but here is a case where the surviving literature is from the vanquished. It gives to our religion the understanding that God is on the side of the downtrodden. Moses becomes the legislator, not for the Egyptians, but for the Hebrews, who are enslaved. A strange God who sides with the slaves.

So, through our baptism (taking the river as a sign for baptism), we are given new identities, as was Moses. We become the rescuers of God’s people, who in the worst of circumstances bring about God’s desires for the world. In the passage from Romans, Paul talks about not being conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of our mind. This is not a one-off, instantaneous event, but a life-long process, of finding our new baptismal identity. The rest of Chapter 12 will tell us how to do this. Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought, do the part God has given you to do for the building up of the body.

In Matthew, Peter confesses Jesus to be the Christ. On this Rock, Jesus will build his Kingdom, and give to Peter and to all the apostles, the keys to the kingdom. In our baptism, in the confession of the Christ, we are given the keys to the kingdom, essentially become Moses, or Christ (the word Christian means ‘little Christ’). We become members of the vanquished who will be victorious.

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