A “Key to the Kingdom” for Queer Liberation

Today’s reflection is from Bondings 2.0 contributor Ariell Watson Simon, whose brief bio and previous posts can be found here.

Today’s liturgical readings for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found here.

My graduate school was housed in one large, four-story brick building with long hallways and heavy doors. When a friend graduated, she gave me an unusual gift: a single golden key.

It wasn’t what you’re probably picturing – not gilded or ornate. To the naked eye, it was just an ordinary modern door key. But my friend explained its power: it was the master key to our school building. Years prior, a student had borrowed the key, and someone in Building Services had forgotten to get it back.

Since then, this “key to the kingdom,” as we called it, had been passed down between generations of students. When I graduated a few years later, I passed the key along to another friend who I knew would use it as I had: not for personal gain, but to serve our school community in small ways, like locking up after hours or grabbing extra cups from the supply closet when an evening event ran out. I would only entrust this “key to the kingdom” to someone who would recognize its value, use it responsibility, and care for our school community as I had. The key was a token of power, but more importantly of trust.

When Jesus promises the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” to the Apostle Peter in today’s gospel reading from Matthew 16, I believe he means something similar. It’s a statement of deepest trust in Peter’s judgment and actions. The symbolism is grounded in an Israelite tradition mentioned in Isaiah 22 by which a specially-chosen royal administrator who held the “key” to the House of David had the authority to act on the king’s behalf.

I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus tells his friend. “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:18-19). This is a profound statement of trust and confidence in Peter.

It’s easy to forget that this was not a formal statement made at a pre-scheduled press conference. It was Jesus’ spontaneous, heartfelt response to a breakthrough moment in their friendship. Jesus had just asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). They had been discussing the various theories about Jesus’s identity that were circulating at the time. Peter’s response cut through all of the speculation and controversy – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16).

Peter recognized Jesus for who he really was at a fundamental level. He saw Jesus’ identity when no one else did. He grasped the one thing that was most true and most profound about Jesus: he is a child of God.

I can only imagine what that moment felt like for Jesus, hearing his friend speak aloud the truth about him. Seeing the recognition dawn in Peter’s eyes. Feeling that his true self was no longer a secret held within himself, but spoken into the world. It sounds to me like the thrill of coming out that LGBTQ+ people experience.

Jesus’ response is effusive. “Blessed are you!” he says, blessing Peter with the keys to the kingdom of heaven. I believe that Jesus trusted Peter at exactly that moment because he knew that Peter really “got” him. At its core, this isn’t a story about power or authority. It’s a story about identity, recognition, and trust.

Jesus was careful about who he entrusted with the keys to his kingdom. He only extended that trust to a true friend, one who knew his deepest identity. Later in the Gospel of Matthew, he extended this authority to more of his friends after they had glimpsed his true nature during the Transfiguration. I believe this discretion is a lesson for all of us, especially LGBTQ folks: do not give others power over you lightly. Only someone who truly sees and recognizes you can bear that trust.

We have all been bound by others’ expectations, judgements, assumptions, or opinions at some point in our lives. We all unwittingly give away the authority to bind us. It’s easy to dismiss these “bindings” as silly and temporal, and to assume we’ll eventually outgrow them, whether in this life or the next. Sadly, it’s too often true that what is bound on earth will be bound in heaven. Too many LGBTQ individuals have felt so bound by the judgements of the Church that they do not dare approach God. It’s a spiritual version of learned helplessness; if we are bound for long enough, we will eventually stop reaching for heaven. This is not divine intention, but practical reality.

Fortunately, that is not the end of the story. Jesus also promised Peter that whatever he loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven. This principle has tremendous potential for liberation. The Church has the power to proclaim freedom – and if we preach, hear, and enact that message of liberation long enough, we will surely experience the freedom of God’s love.

Ariell Watson Simon (she/her), New Ways Ministry, August 27, 2023

2 replies
  1. Albert Pike
    Albert Pike says:

    Thank you, Ariell, for a wonderful alternative to the interpretation of what the Roman Catholic Church uses for the establishment of the sacrament of Penance. It is so freeing for practicing Catholics to view different interpretations of scripture instead of mindlessly accepting the doctrines and dogmas of the Church. Rather than leave the Church, faithful Catholics need to view its antiquated laws with suspicion and rejoice in all that is true and wonderful about Catholicism from the viewpoint of the 21st century (the evolution of theology, psychology, and sociology.)

  2. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    Your wonderful presentation, comments on binding and loosing reminded me of a wonderful presentation of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest that I saw many years ago. Ariel was, of course, bound to obey, and do the bidding of the master and many times she (In this play, Ariel was played by a female) Ariel had to do things that were distasteful to her, and so in the final part of the play she was freed, and it was a very wonderful part when the artist who was also a ballerina ,walks joyfully off the stage, taking a beautiful veil off her face, revealing a smile of liberated joy. I hope that your reflection and all of our world ,especially the church of Will soon be freed from our unjust bindings, and prejudices and see the real beauty of people as they have been created by God.


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