TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – A – AUGUST 27, 2017

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 22:19-23
A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 11:33-36
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 16:13-20

 

 

Dear Reader,

Over the past few weeks, two groups have been present in the Gospels – the crowds and the disciples.  We have noted 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 clarification about that decision, the decision we must make and remake each day of our faith lives.

At this point in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ reputation has spread throughout the land, even through the region of Caesarea Philippi.  Judging by the name of the area, there must have been a strong Roman influence in this place some distance from Galilee.  Think back on what we have witnessed in the Gospel proclamations of the last several Sundays.  We witnessed Jesus feed the 5000 with a few loaves and a couple of fish and had 12 baskets left over.  Jesus came walking on the water to the storm-tossed disciples.  The wind and the waves obeyed him and calmed. Then Jesus had the mission-altering encounter with the Canaanite woman.  In light of all this, now hear the question Jesus asks his disciples and us among them: Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

Each year as Church, we make a journey through Ordinary Time via the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, or Luke.  We hear from John’s Gospel from time to time.  Some of us have been making these journeys for many years; from the time we died with Jesus in the Font and rose to live his life.  Some 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?  Taking in all that the people have seen and heard, what is their decision?  That is what Jesus asks the disciples.  There is no question that people recognize his greatness.  Look at the company into which they have put him – John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.  That is another way of saying that the people, the crowds, know that God worked through those giants in the tradition and they suspect that God is working through Jesus now.  And remember what the Canaanite woman called Jesus last week.  She had observed.  She had listened.  She had decided.  She called him Lord.

As always with Jesus, it is not enough what others think.  (Notice that Jesus does not deny his being identified with any of those icons people are saying he is.) Who do you who have been with me for this time, 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 before us each time we come together as Church?  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 declares that Jesus is the one God has sent, the one anointed by God as David was, the one who will establish God’s reign.  In other words, Peter says that Jesus is the embodiment of all of Israel’s dreams and aspirations, especially as they applied to deliverance from foreign rule.  Through Jesus the people will be free again and the disciples will share in the splendor.  Or so they thought.  But notice now that Jesus orders them not to tell anyone about their conclusion yet.  They will have to alter their understanding of Messiah because of what is yet to happen.  Will they be able to see Messiah in one who is rejected, who suffers crucifixion, and dies?

Remember that the faith decision is beyond the powers of our own ability to make.  The Spirit inspires.  Grace empowers.  In our second reading, Paul has marveled everyday at the experience of that reality in his own life, from the initial encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus until the day Paul died.  He knew, as he said, that no one could say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit.  For from him and through him and for him are all things.  To him be glory forever.  Amen.

Jesus marvels at Peter’s declaration.  It is beyond mere human powers to discern.  Jesus’ heavenly Father revealed the truth to Peter.  It will be that witness that will be the foundation for the Church Jesus establishes.  Don’t miss the important name change in this passage.  Simon here becomes Petrus; the name means rock.  You are Peter and upon this rock (Petrus) I will build my church.  Look how strong it will be on that foundation and how long it will endure.

As the Baptized, we gather in the Mystery that is the Christ.  Our actions translate our understanding of that Mystery.  Each of us must profess that faith through what we say and do.  As church collectively we must profess that faith through what we say and do.  In response to the proclaimed Word we celebrate Eucharist.  Giving thanks to Jesus’ heavenly Father and invoking the Spirit, the transformation goes on: the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and the Assembly into that same Body and Blood.  Strengthened in the decision we have made about Jesus by 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.  That sign is Love, loving service to the poor, the disenfranchised, the outcast, all who need to know the universality of God’s love that comes to us in Christ.

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 disciples.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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