21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A ~ August 27, 2023
PETER: THE ROCK OF CHRIST
St. Peter, a fisherman who became the fisher of men. He was a chosen vessel of the Lord who though he showed weakness at times, the Lord chose him to be the rock upon which the Church would be built, and the gates of Hades would not prevail. Why did Jesus choose St. Peter when there were many young and strong men among his disciples? Why did Jesus give authority to St. Peter after his confession that “You are the Son of the living God”? I believe that St. Peter took the adversity and trials and mistakes he encountered and continued to love Jesus without any hesitation. The authority to St. Peter after his confession about the true divinity of Christ. I believe St. Peter’s weakness was strength for the Lord who gave him authority because the Lord knew that his confession was not mere words coming out of his mouth but the strong faith he had in the Lord. St. John Chrysostom talking about the weakness, explains very well that those who are rooted in him, will always have strength in him: “It was clear through unlearned men that the cross was persuasive, in fact, it persuaded the whole world. Their discourse was not of unimportant matters but of God and true religion, of the Gospel way of life and future judgment, yet it turned plain, uneducated men into philosophers. How the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and his weakness stronger than men! In what way is it stronger? It made its way throughout the world and overcame all men; countless men sought to eradicate the very name of the Crucified, but that name flourished and grew ever mightier. Its enemies lost out and perished; the living who waged a war on a dead man proved helpless. Therefore, when a Greek tells me I am dead, he shows only that he is foolish indeed, for I, whom he thinks a fool, turn out to be wiser than those reputed wise. So too, in calling me weak, he but shows that he is weaker still. For the good deeds which tax-collectors and fishermen were able to accomplish by God’s grace, the philosophers, the rulers, the countless multitudes could not even imagine.
Paul had this in mind when he said: The weakness of God is stronger than men. The preaching of these men was indeed divine and is brought home to us in the same way. For how otherwise could twelve uneducated men, who lived on lakes and rivers and wastelands, get the idea for such an immense enterprise? How could men who perhaps had never been in a city or a public square think of setting out to do battle with the whole world? That they were fearful, timid men, the evangelist makes clear; he did not reject the fact or try to hide their weaknesses. Indeed, he turned these into a proof of the truth. What did he say of them? That when Christ was arrested, the others fled, despite all the miracles they had seen, while he who was leader of the others denied him! How then account for the fact that these men, who in Christ’s lifetime did not stand up to the attacks by the Jews, set forth to do battle with the whole world once Christ was dead—if, as you claim, Christ did not rise and speak to them and rouse their courage? Did they perhaps say to themselves: “What is this, he could not save himself, but he will protect us? He did not help himself when he was alive, but now that he is dead, how will he extend a helping hand to us? In his lifetime he brought no nation under his banner, but by uttering his name we will win over the whole world?” Would it not be wholly irrational even to think such thoughts, much less to act upon them? It is evident, then, that if they had not seen him risen and had proof of his power, they would not have risked so much.
We must remember that we live in a time and world where people want to have power and authority over other people of which, in recent decades, we have seen so many examples; however, there is a difference between worldly and spiritual authority. In the worldly authority people are self centered, but in the spiritual authority, people care about others without any greed or reward. This Sunday’s Scripture Readings are very interesting and thought provoking to examine ourselves to see if we are using that authority to build our families and communities on Gospel values. One of the principles to use that authority is to learn how to control our minds to the right position and direction. The following story can help us to understand our role as people of authority.
One day, a disciple and his teacher were walking through the forest. The disciple was disturbed by the fact that his mind was in constant unrest. He asked his teacher: “Why are most people’s minds restless, and only a few possess a calm mind? What can one do to still the mind?”
The teacher looked at the disciple, smiled and said, “I will tell you a story.”
“On one beautiful day, an elephant was standing by the shade of a tree, eating its leaves. Suddenly, a small fly came buzzing and landed on the elephant’s ear. The elephant stayed calm and continued to eat, not heeding the fly.”
“The fly flew around the elephant’s ear, buzzing noisily, yet the elephant seemed to be unaffected by it. This bewildered the fly, and it asked, ‘Are you deaf?’
“No!” The elephant answered. “Why aren’t you bothered by my buzz?” The fly asked.
“Why are you so restless and noisy? Why can’t you stay still just for a few moments?” Asked the elephant, and peacefully continued eating the leaves.
The fly answered, “Everything I see, hear and feel attracts my attention, and all noises and movements around me affect my behavior.” “What is your secret? How can you stay so calm and still?”
The elephant stopped eating and said, “My five senses do not disturb my peace, because they do not rule my attention. I am in control of my mind and my thoughts, and therefore, I can direct my attention where I want, and ignore any disturbances, including your buzz.”
“Now that I am eating, I am completely immersed in the act of eating. In this way, I can enjoy my food and chew it better. I am in control of my attention, and therefore, I can stay peaceful.”
Upon hearing these words, the disciple’s eyes opened wide, and a smile appeared on his face. He looked at his teacher and said:
“I now understand! My mind will always be in constant unrest, if my five senses, and whatever is happening in the world around me, are in control of it. On the other hand, if I am in command of my five senses, able to disregard sense impressions, and able to control my thoughts, my mind will become calm, and I will be able to disregard its restlessness.”
“Yes, that’s right,” answered the teacher, “The mind is restless and goes wherever the attention goes. Control your attention, and you control your mind.”
According to the pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, the Second Vatican Council: “We are warned indeed that a man gains nothing if he wins the whole world at the cost of himself. Yet our hope in a new earth should not weaken, but rather stimulate our concern for developing this earth, for on it there is growing up the body of a new human family, a body even now able to provide some foreshadowing of the new age. Hence, though earthly progress is to be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ’s Kingdom. Yet in so far as it can help toward the better ordering of human society it is of great importance to the Kingdom of God”.
In the First Reading the Prophet Isaiah is bringing a very strong message to Shebna who was the master of the household and because of his pride, he was ejected from his office and replaced by Eliakim the son of Hilkiah. Shebna, after receiving authority became self centered and used his power to spread evil rather than building the community. Are we self centered people or people centered? In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus praises the faithful and trustworthy servant; “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you; he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:45-51).
In the Gospel today Jesus places two questions in front of his disciples to see their openness to understanding him. These questions have very deep and sound theology. Why did Jesus ask them these questions? Did he need any human testimony or approval? Wasn’t he aware how people think and feel about him? Didn’t he know the minds and hearts of his disciples? If he did not need any of the above, then why did he ask the questions? We must remember these questions have very strong conclusions.
Let us reflect on the verses before today’s Gospel passage because they will help us to understand why Jesus asked one general and another specific question. From verse 1-4, the Pharisees and Sadducees were asking Jesus to show them a sign from heaven to prove that he is really from heaven which clearly shows that they did not know Jesus. The verses from 5-12 unveil that Jesus is giving warning to everyone to be careful of the yeast of the Pharisees which means not to be lost in the world. Above mentioned two points will help us to understand the questions Jesus is asking his disciples.
Our Holy Father Pope Francis reflects on the Gospel and says “St. Matthew takes us back to a key juncture along Jesus’ journey with his disciples: the moment in which he wants to assess the extent of their faith in him. First, he wants to know what the people think of him; and the people think that Jesus is a prophet, which is true, but they do not grasp the centrality of his Person; they do not understand the centrality of his mission. Then he asks the disciples the question closest to his heart, that is, he asks them directly: “But who do you say that I am?”. And with that ‘but’ Jesus firmly separates the Apostles from the multitudes, as if to say: but you, who are with me every day and know me personally, what more have you understood? The Master expects from his own a lofty response different from that of public opinion. And indeed, such an answer gushes forth from the heart of Simon, called Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Simon Peter finds on his lips, words greater than he, words that do not spring from his natural faculties. Perhaps he did not attend elementary school, and yet he is capable of saying these words, stronger than he! But they are inspired by the Heavenly Father, who reveals Jesus’ true identity to the first of the Twelve: he is the Messiah, the Son sent by God to save mankind. And from this answer, Jesus understands that, thanks to the faith given by the Father, there is a solid foundation upon which he can build his community, his Church. Thus, he says to Simon: You, Simon, “you are Peter” — that is, stone, rock — “and on this rock I will build my Church.”
If we sincerely examine ourselves, I think we will be lost in the first question of Jesus “who do people say the Son of Man is?” I believe we are living in a time, where we listen and follow the worldly understanding of Jesus more and we have kept him out of everything. We need the heart and spirit of St. Peter to make Jesus the centre of our lives. Peter makes his confession of faith in the Gospel when the Lord’s question turns from the general to the specific. At first, Jesus asks: “Who do people say that the Son of man is?”. The results of this “survey” shows that Jesus is widely considered a prophet. Then the Master puts the decisive question to his disciples: “But you, who do you say that I am?”. At this point, Peter alone replies: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. To confess the faith means this: to acknowledge in Jesus the long-awaited Messiah, the living God, the Lord of our lives. Today Jesus puts this crucial question to us, to each of us. It is a decisive question. It does not allow for a non-committal answer, because it brings into play our entire life. The question of life demands a response of life. For it counts little to know the articles of faith if we do not confess Jesus as the Lord of our lives. Today he looks straight at us and asks, “Who am I for you?” As if to say: “Am I still the Lord of your life, the longing of your heart, the reason for your hope, the source of your unfailing trust?” Along with Saint Peter, we too renew today our life choice to be Jesus’ disciples and apostles.
Jesus does not stop there with those two questions; he adds something more and a surprising element in the lives of his disciples. After the confession of St. Peter, he gives authority to his disciples to build the Church. Jesus’s authority is not based on greed or power but on service because he came to serve and not to be served. Those who confess Jesus know that they are not simply to offer opinions but to offer their very lives. They know that they are not to believe half-heartedly but to “be on fire” with love. They know that they cannot just “tread water” or take the easy way out, but they must take the risk of putting out into the deep, daily renewing their self-offering. They also follow the Lord along his way, not our own ways. His way is that of new life, of joy and resurrection; it is also the way that passes through the cross and persecution.
This week we have given two personalities to choose: Shebna and St. Peter with authority. One abuses the power and the other lays down his life for Jesus. Which personality are we going to follow? The decision is ours.
The following story to help us to decide what to do and who use our authority to build our families, communities, societies, and countries. St. Peter being the Rock of Christ united everyone to Christ who died on the Cross for everyone.
A shop owner placed a sign above his door that said: “Puppies for Sale.”
Signs like this always have a way of attracting young children, and to no surprise, a boy saw the sign and approached the owner; “How much are you going to sell the puppies for?” he asked.
The store owner replied, “Anywhere from $30 to $50.”
The little boy pulled out some change from his pocket. “I have $2.37,” he said. “Can I please look at them?”
The shop owner smiled and whistled. Out of the kennel came Lady, who ran down the aisle of his shop followed by five teeny, tiny balls of fur.
One puppy was lagging considerably behind. Immediately the little boy singled out the lagging, limping puppy and said, “What’s wrong with that little dog?”
The shop owner explained that the veterinarian had examined the little puppy and had discovered it didn’t have a hip socket. It would always limp. It would always be lame.
The little boy became excited. “That is the puppy that I want to buy.”
The shop owner said, “No, you don’t want to buy that little dog. If you really want him, I’ll just give him to you.”
The little boy got quite upset. He looked straight into the store owner’s eyes, pointing his finger, and said; “I don’t want you to give him to me. That little dog is worth every bit as much as all the other dogs and I’ll pay full price. In fact, I’ll give you $2.37 now, and 50 cents a month until I have him paid for.”
The shop owner countered, “You really don’t want to buy this little dog. He is never going to be able to run and jump and play with you like the other puppies.”
To his surprise, the little boy reached down and rolled up his pant leg to reveal a badly twisted, crippled left leg supported by a big metal brace. He looked up at the shop owner and softly replied, “Well, I don’t run so well myself, and the little puppy will need someone who understands!”
Who is Jesus for us and who we are to him? I leave this question to all of you to decide.
Other Sermons In This Series
September 08, 2022
November 10, 2023
March 18, 2022