The Church built on a pun.
There are many ways of reading a text, any text. Matthew 16.18 is no exception. However, in the long tradition of Church Doctrine, there is only one, universal, authoritative teaching which can prevail and deliver for all mankind the true meaning of Matthew’s reporting of Jesus’ words, “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.” The Catholic Church holds the key.
What speaks to me, today, on the feast of Peter and Paul is not so much the pun as the anachronism that in Jesus’ day the Church had not begun and when it did, after his death, there appear to have been quite a few churches and many different ways of expressing and living out the Good News. Indeed Matthew is the only gospel to mention “Church”, a term which grew up as the early Christians began to form assemblies.
Indeed, the account in Acts of the first Council of Jerusalem, shows just how different the views were between some groups and the issue of the circumcision of Gentiles was a hot topic, a bit like gay marriage today, I imagine. It was Paul’s liberal view which won out against Peter, the rock.
I let my imagination go further. One predominant theme of Matthew’s Gospel is the way in which the Jewish scriptures foretold and point to Jesus as the Saviour of the Jews. The Gospel is almost bitter about how the Jews have missed out on the Messiah. So would the church in which Matthew’s gospel took shape not, maybe, be a bit put out over the concessions to the gentiles, still smarting from Paul’s persuasiveness?
To me this could explain the text in quite a different light – an ironic pun which attempts to re-establish apostolic authority when the reality was very different.
What was actually happening was that the Holy Spirit, present in the churches, can be seen at work guiding and leading Christians in the most surprising ways through the “apostle” Paul. Nothing, not even Papal authority, should get in the way of our openness to the Holy Spirit, lest we be like the Jews in Jesus’ day who missed out on their Messiah.