Isaiah 51: 1-6; Matthew 16: 13-20
Ancient Israel, in today’s passage, they were in trouble and at risk socially, politically, economically, and religiously as they had been taken in by the Babylonian empire. The demanding task for them was about how they should get along with the Babylonians as citizens, believers, or worshippers. They had, at least, to give the appearance of going along with the empire. But the risk was that they would forget too much so easily, just like we do.
Isaiah’s prophecy is a call to action amongst people who might struggle with the feeling and sense that God has abandoned them, but a reminder that God is still there in their midst--in the midst of the hustle and bustle.
In the passage, the Israelites in exile are invited to imitate and replicate the faith of Abraham and Sarah and also trust God’s promises and receive God’s impossibilities, just when they had about given up on God’s promises during their exile in Babylon. Yes, Isaiah wanted people to recall a faith memory that God would give a different future against all control, despair, anxiety, and impossibility.
This faith is the rock of Abraham and Sarah we must look at and hold. And think of that “rock,” then flip over to today’s gospel reading from Matthew 16. In that story, Jesus is quizzing or checking on his disciples--“Hey, how are y’all doing? And how am I doing?” The disciples respond—"Maybe 20% say you remind them of Elijah; maybe 50% say you are like Jeremiah.” Well, Jesus says, “I do want a poll. How am I doing in your judgment?”
Peter answers,--"You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Then, Jesus answers him—“You are Peter; on this Rock, I will build my church.” Do you still see the connection between Isaiah’s rock and Peter’s rock?
One rock that we have been passing down is the ancient promise of God to do impossibilities for Abraham and Sarah. The other rock is a faithful and gathered community and those who have embodied God’s promises, especially trusting that God still works for the impossibilities we call today “the church.”
Maybe, the super-imperial power, like the ancient Babylon power, causes us to lose our balance, retreat into something safe or somewhere other than God, quit thinking about God and God’s promises, and eventually make us just “go along” with the way of the world. That is why we still come to today’s passages-- do not give up thinking, do not give up hope, do not just get along.
Instead, keep striving to live our life differently, keep proclaiming our peculiar identity as people who trust God’s promises, and keep not only watching but also participating in God’s work
to solve all kinds of impossibilities around us. We know who we are because we trust today’s stories, the God of these stories, and the Messiah who is among us and within us.
Thanks be to God.