TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2020)
Readings:Isaiah 22;15, 19-23Psalms 138:1-3, 6, 8Romans 11:33-36Matthew 16:13-20
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are His judgements and how unsearchable His ways!” (Romans 11:33). Our second reading begins with words that we should be prompted to say each and every time we have the privilege of coming close to that God – in the Eucharist, in our private prayers, in our silent moments, in all our needs, and in times of difficulties. Our God is predictable only to the extent that we know God is all-loving, even if circumstances might suggest otherwise. God’s judgements are “inscrutable” (impenetrable and unfathomable), and they are incapable of being investigated. When God is manifested to us, in any and all fashions, all we can do is stand in awe, like Elijah at the mouth of the cave.
Perhaps that is why the response of Peter in today’s gospel is so important, a response to a question directly asked by Jesus: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Jesus further sharpens His question by saying He is not interested in what others are saying: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the prophets. Jesus wants to know what the disciples themselves are thinking, and Simon Peter boldly answers in a marvelous confession of faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” While the third person of the blessed Trinity is never mentioned, it is clearly the Spirit that has “revealed this” to Peter, and Jesus states that Peter, like his name indicates (Cephas), will be the rock upon which the Church will be built, and the “keys of the kingdom” will be given to Peter. This is not meant to be a reward for Peter’s insight, but rather an insight into what will happen (and is happening in the Church when the gospel was being written). The “keys” echo the “key” from our first reading given to the new leader Eliakim, which is the “key of the House of David,” which will give Eliakim the authority to rule, and lead, and “be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (the Israelites). Those “keys” give Peter a similar authority to teach and guide, to bind and loose.
Jesus already knows that Peter is not a perfect person, as the gospel next week will show so clearly. Jesus will go so far as to call Peter “Satan,” not a name of endearment. In today’s gospel where Peter shines so brightly, it is because of his strong faith, a faith that could recognize Jesus’ divine origins, a faith that saw Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, the “Christ.” It is faith which always elicits a reaction by Jesus, even as we witnessed last week with the Canaanite woman. It is faith which will overcome Peter’s shortcomings so evident in the gospels – his impetuousness, his attempted interference with God’s plan (next week), and his denial of knowing Jesus – and it is faith which will make him the foundation stone of the Church.
The question boldly answered by Peter, was directed to all of the disciples, and it is a question that is asked of us as well. Who do we say Jesus is? Is He just the problem solver, the one we go to when we encounter the problems that are part of each and every day? Is He the miracle worker we go to when our needs are extreme? Is Jesus the key to our getting into heaven, no matter how we have lived our lives? It is not impossible that Jesus could be many things to all of the people that He desires to draw near to Him. But what is indispensable to our faith is to be able to say along with Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The One who took on human flesh, the One who walked on this earth more than two-thousand years ago that He might teach us how to live our lives, is most importantly the long awaited Messiah, the Christ who was predicted by the prophets. He is our refuge, our hope, the source of all love, and Jesus expects us to do our best to walk in His ways. While we strive for a certain perfection, it is unlikely that many of us will attain it. It should be no small comfort that Jesus did not demand perfection to make Peter the pillar of His Church. As we said at the beginning of this reflection: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are His judgements and how unsearchable His ways!”