Saturday, August 7, 2010

Keys to the Kingdom

The Word (Matthew 16:18-19, NIV):

"I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

I was helping my dear wife the other day. Our dining room table has a compartment below its surface, and it has to be cleaned out periodically as table crumbs from our meals get down in there and accumulate. It was my intention to get this out of the way and not procrastinate in this tedious but necessary task.

While going about cleaning there were the usual discoveries: a few instruction booklets and warranty cards from small appliances we no longer owned, the stray pen or two that no longer worked, and a few other things that we were ready to discard. Likewise, there were other things that needed to be kept and if possible relocated to other storage places.

We were nearing the end of the job when I discovered a set of keys on a fob my wife had made. Because this was her handiwork, I thought the keys were hers - to someplace like her parents' house, a place we don't normally need keys to get to but should have should there be an emergency. But no, these weren't hers, she said.

I took another look at them. A couple of them were stamped as having been duplicated by the locksmith in town. And then it hit me. These were the keys to the church building where I had served as a deacon until eleven years ago, that part of my life I wrote about in this blog and behind me; at least that's what I thought.

But keys are generally carried on a man's person, and carry all the energy - good and bad - that accumulate over time by the person bearing them. Flood gates were released, a wound was reopened, and with it, the haunting notion behind Jesus' words, quoted by the apostle Matthew.

Most traditional Christians and especially Catholics are aware of the symbolism behind Peter's receiving the keys to the Pearly Gates. By these words he becomes the gatekeeper. He also becomes the rock, the foundation, the leader, of the early Church. No matter how many times he would do something of questionable or dubious thought througout  the Gospels, here it is made clear that Peter is to inherit the mantle of leadership.

But there's more. In undertaking this role, Peter is given carte blanche authority in making decisions. Whatever you declare lawful on earth is lawful in heaven, and whatever you declare unlawful on earth is automatically unlawful in heaven. Phenomenal and absolute power! Many times, of course, Peter demonstrated in both strength and weakness that Jesus had chosen from the beginning of time the right person for this arduous task. Then you consider the concept of apostolic succession, meaning all Peter's successors as popes of the Church assumed the same authority and power - and to an extent, every bishop as well.

I thought of these verses and the implications therein as I stared at the keys in my hand, with a sense of near burning heat to them. I was reminded that I was far from perfect, and I will one day have to account for my imperfections and lack of full discernment. Much that has transpired over the last eleven years from a faith perspective could be questionable according to whose rules I am judged.

I've lost track of how many times I've holed myself up privately to throw my life at Jesus' feet and beg for mercy and compassion - because I indeed believe and surely trust in those attributes above just about everything else I've been taught along these lines. But is that all lost in the final analysis due to what Jesus said to Peter? That judgment is already determined?

I cannot, I must not read too much into this. I still trust in God's love and mercy. And to assure that it is there, I must act as if I have already received it, which indeed I have. I must show others as best I can the depths to which that mercy and compassion can reach. Here, in this life, this is not a simple thing. The keys remind me of that. In our existence, there are impenetrable fortresses, deep chasms, and all manner of locks and blockades and red tape and policies and procedures and code that would make one think that any attempt to break through is useless.

But one candle's light penetrates the darkness, and one simple act of kindness has the potential of unlocking so many doors that will otherwise remain closed. The evidence in these times prove it out.

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