THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – A – August 24, 2014

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 22:19-23

A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans 11:33-36

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 16:13-20

 

 

Over the past few weeks we have noted two groups represented in the Gospels – one the crowds and the other the disciples. We have come to see that what differentiates the two groups is that the crowds watch what Jesus does and listen to what he says and wonder about him. The disciples, on the other hand, have made the decision to follow Jesus. In this week’s Gospel, Jesus presses for a clarification about the decision disciples have made.

At this point in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ reputation has spread throughout the land, even through the region of Caesarea Philippi. We can take from the name of the region that there must have been a strong Roman influence in this place that was some distance from Galilee. Think about what we have witnessed in the proclamations of the last several Sundays. Jesus fed the 5000 with a few loaves and a couple of fish and had 12 baskets of fragments left over. Jesus came to the disciples walking on the water through a violent storm. Jesus had the mission-altering conversation with the Canaanite woman. In light of all this now hear the question Jesus asks his disciples: Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

Each year we, as Church, make a journey through Ordinary Time via the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, or Luke. We also hear from John’s Gospel from time to time. Some of us have been making this faith-journey for many years; from the moment we died with Jesus in the Waters of the Font and rose to live Christ’s life. Some of us found faith as adults and have been making the journey for some years now. And others of us are making this journey for the first time in a decision making process called the Catechumenate. For all of us the journey through Ordinary Time affords us the opportunity to deepen and strengthen our faith; or rather, to be influenced by the Spirit and so be strengthened.

Who do people say that the Son of man is? The Son of Man simply means I. Jesus is asking: Who do people say that I am? What have you heard? Taking in all that the people are saying, what is there decision? That is what Jesus asks the disciples. There is no question that people recognize Jesus’ greatness. Look at the company into which they have placed him – John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. That is another way of saying that the people, the crowds, recognize that God worked through these giants in the tradition and they suspect that God is working through Jesus now. Remember what the Canaanite woman called Jesus last week. She had observed. She had listened. She had decided. She called him Lord.

Notice that that litany of conclusions the crowds has come to about Jesus are like facets of a wondrous gem. And notice that Jesus does not deny any one of them. But it is not enough to know what others think. Who do you who have been with me for this time, you who have witnessed the miracles and heard me preach and teach, who do you say that I am? How have the signs spoken to you? Would you believe that that is the question each of us must answer each time the Gospel is proclaimed, each time we assemble, and each time we celebrate Eucharist. That decision makes all the difference in the world.

Peter speaks for the disciples: You are the Christ (the Messiah) the Son of the Living God. Peter’s conclusion is that Jesus is the one God has sent, the one anointed by God as David was, the one Isaiah promised in the first reading as the one who will establish God’s reign. In other words, Peter declares that Jesus is the embodiment of all of Israel’s dreams and aspirations, especially as they apply to deliverance from foreign rule. Through Jesus the people will be free again. The disciples will share in the splendor. Well, perhaps.

It is important to note that the decision made is beyond the powers of our own ability to make. The Spirit inspires. Grace empowers. Every day Paul marveled at the experience of that reality in his own life, from the initial encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus until the day he died. He knew, as he said, that no one can say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit.

Jesus marvels at Peter’s statement. What he has said is beyond mere human powers to discern. Jesus’ heavenly Father revealed the truth to Peter. And it will be that witness that will be the foundation for the Church Jesus establishes. By the way, don’t miss the important name change in this passage. Simon becomes Petrus and the name means rock. You are Peter and upon this rock (Petrus) I will build my church. And look how strong it will be and how long it will last.

Now why do you suppose Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone that he was the Christ? Most likely it is because Peter and the rest had to come to a deeper understanding of what kind of Messiah, what kind of Christ, Jesus would prove to be. There might not be the splendor that they hoped for. There might not be the kind of earthly kingdom they wanted to see established. There would be the rejection, the condemnation, and the crucifixion. How cam these things happen to the Messiah? To the Christ?

They won’t understand until the Resurrection.

As the Baptized we gather in the mystery that is Jesus. Our actions translate our understanding of that Mystery. Each of us must profess that faith through what we say and do. As church we must profess that faith through what we say and do in response to the proclaimed Word. We celebrate Eucharist. We give thanks to the heavenly Father through the renewing of Jesus’ dying and rising. By invoking the Spirit the transformation goes on, the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, the Assembly into that same Body and Blood. And strengthened in the decision we have made about Jesus through the meal we share, we are sent to be sign so that others may come to know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

But as we will see next week, sometimes saying it is just the beginning. We may have a long way to go before we understand what kind of Messiah (Christ) Jesus is and what that will mean for believers.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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