Friday, August 29, 2008

"I Will Give You The Keys To The Kingdom Of Heaven"

This morning I was reading Bishop Tom Gumbleton's latest sermon on the National Catholic Reporter website and was fascinated with his interpretation of Mathew Chapter 16 and Mathew Chapter 18:

"We've come to accept that, that it's Peter, now the successor of Peter, the pope, who has ultimate authority in the church, and especially since the first Vatican Council, which ended in the year 1870, so over 100 years ago, but still dominant in our church, we have ascribed to the pope, total power and authority in the church.

"To you I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." The pope, according to this interpretation, has total authority, total power within our church. We've come to be very used to that and have accepted that this is the interpretation of this gospel passage.

But in fact, that interpretation did not become part of the church's tradition until the fourth century, when Constantine (the Roman emperor) had been baptized and the church began to exist with freedom in the Roman Empire. It began to take on some of the traits of that empire -- power, prestige, wealth -- so this interpretation of this passage developed in that fourth century.
Before that, in the earliest tradition, the passage was interpreted as Peter being a type, an image of all the disciples. So Jesus is saying then, "It is on all my believing disciples that I build my church. To all my disciples I give the power to bind or to loose." That's the earliest interpretation and that's reinforced, actually, when you go just a little bit further into Matthew's gospel in the 18th chapter, and Jesus is speaking, not to Peter, but to all the disciples, the whole community. "I say to you, whatever you bind on earth, heaven will keep bound; whatever you unbind on earth, heaven will keep unbound."

So it wasn't Peter, and now the pope, that has the full authority and power within the church, it's the whole community, the church. That's what Jesus said to his disciples and that was the earliest interpretation of this passage."


Bishop Gumbleton's whole sermon is worth reading, but these few paragraphs struck a chord with in me. Sometimes just for fun, I'll take out a thesaurus and see if another use of a word might have a profound impact in interpreting the whole. Bishop Gumbleton tripped this process in me this morning and I chose the word KEYS in the quote from Jesus cited in the title to this post.

What if we interpret the word 'keys' not in it's literal sense, but as a synonym for the word "concept". In this sense the quote would read "I will give you the concepts to the kingdom of heaven." One of those concepts then becomes: "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." As Bishop Gumble goes on to point out, in Mathew 18:18, Jesus extends this concept to all of His disciples, not just Peter. Jesus also goes on to give another concept or key in verses 19 and 20: Again, (amen,) I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

Another interesting thing to me about Chapter 18 is the verses directly following the above deal with another critical concept or key, and the discourse on this concept is initiated by Peter:

"Then Peter approaching asked him, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?"

Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.

That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants.

When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.

Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt.

At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.'

Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.

When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, 'Pay back what you owe.'

Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'

But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt.

Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair.

His master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.

Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?'

Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.

So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart."

The keys Jesus gives in this story are the importance of forgiveness, compassion, and a very direct application of binding and loosening: as you treat others, so shall the kingdom of heaven manifest for you. This is a warning about the law of reciprocity, about binding and loosening. In other words, this is how the reality of the Kingdom works, and forgiveness, infinitely patient forgiveness (70x7) is in your own best interests.

As all of this percolated in my head, I couldn't help but wonder how different the Church would be today if this one word 'KEYS' had been translated as 'CONCEPTS'. Peter's faith would have been identified as a key concept necessary for the manifestation of the Kingdom. It wasn't Peter's personal authority that motivated Jesus to call him the rock, it was his steadfast Faith in the person of Jesus. Peter, more than any other disciple, needed the lesson about the immensity of the Father's capacity to forgive and the importance of imitating that forgiveness. Of all the disciples Peter was most prone to personal failure, and had the biggest issues with jealousy, but he was also the most faithful in his understanding of who Jesus was, if not necessarily what He taught. I don't believe Peter was ever intended to be the first pope, at least not in the sense we currently think of a pope. I think he was singled out for exhibiting the first key concept about the Kingdom of heaven-- the necessity for unwavering faith in it's existence and in the authority of Christ to manifest it's truth as the Son of God.

It really is mind boggling to think what could have been had this one passage in Mathew been interpreted differently. Instead of a monarchical papacy with all power and authority vested in one specially ordained man, we might have had millions and millions of disciples demonstrating the inherent truths of the Kingdom, by using the gifts and concepts of the Spirit just as Jesus lived, taught, and used these concepts----these keys.


  1. Coleen, you wrote:

    "we might have had millions and millions of disciples demonstrating the inherent truths of the Kingdom, by using the gifts and concepts of the Spirit just as Jesus lived, taught, and used these concepts----these keys"

    Actually, that is already happening right now all over the world, just not in the roman catholic church. Your casino experience is just one of millions of experiences that the true faithful are having on a daily basis all over the world.

    I believe that just as Jesus took his message from the Jews (when they refused to listen) and gave it to the gentiles, (who embraced it with passion) he has done the same thing today with the roman catholic church. Jesus has taken his message from them (the Vatican) and given it to the gentiles (the liberal protestant heretics).

    I also believe that this is part of what is terrifying the Vatican, they see it, (just at the jewish leadership did) and they cannot achieve it for themselves. Since they cant, they dont want anyone else to either. Hence, the pressure to conform to the fundamentalism of doctrine (just like the jewish leadership did to Jesus' followers).

    The parallels between the history of Judea during and after Christ and the roman catholic church today are amazing.

    If history repeats itself, it shouldnt be much longer before we see the landscape of Vatican City undergo some radical changes and come under new ownership (just as happened to the temple in Jerusalem).

  2. "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, (amen,) I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. " Matt 18:18-19

    Many have asked me over the years in the ministry, why, if the promise here is so clear, are not more prayers answered? This is a valid question. "Why indeed are not more prayers answered?"

    The answer is found in V 20:

    "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

    "in my name" - Simply put, the reason so many prayers seem to go unanswered is that those praying think, either consciously or unconsciously, that the Holy Spirit is "blind and stupid"! They treat Matt 18:18-20 as a witches incantation. Say the right words, the right way, with the right props and God HAS NO CHOICE but to obey us and do what we tell Him to.

    I developed a 5 week course called "All Prayer is Answered". There is no way to condense all of that into this small space. Rather, this is offered to those on the mystic path as a thought thread to ponder. A starting point for discussion.

    Over the 5 weeks, we demonstrate that ALL prayers are answered. The question that should be asked when they seem not to be is: "what was the real prayer, the one that WAS answered"?

  3. Carl, I'd like more of your information from this course. Prayer and how one goes about it could be a great topic.

    I often tell people to study Tiger Woods and his incredible focus to understand how much focus one needs in effective prayer. It's not about wishful thinking or desperation it's about focus.

    The other thing I've noticed about prayer, and you bring it up, is that you really need to trust God concerning the details. The best answer to a prayer may not be the one you have in your head.

    I too have noticed the striking parallels between our current time and the Jewish Authority at the time of Christ. It's so striking I often wonder if Benedict doesn't see it as well. He seems to be attempting to spiritualize the rules the others are just blindly enforcing. This trend may be why he is going to Lourdes. An attempt to remind people of the mystical gifted side of the Church.

    Unfortunately you can't access the mystical by blind obedience or mindless repetition of ritual--expecially if you're fear based. Usually you wind up getting exactly what you're afraid of.