Sunday, August 27
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 16: 13 – 20
Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Then he strictly ordered his disciples
to tell no one that he was the Christ.
In today’s gospel passage, Jesus asks Peter, “Who do people say that I am?” Later Jesus asks the more pointed and poignant question, “Who do you say that I am?” One thing the preacher could do today is just put that question out there, sit down and let it sit in the silence of the church asking each, in their own heart, to respond to the question. That is hard to do on paper.
Jesus asks an eternally living question. It is always asked in the present tense. Over the past few weeks, it has been a question that has challenged me. In the shadow of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, the threats of war in the Northern Peninsula of North Korea and Venezuela the question, “Teresa, who do you say that I am?” has challenged me. In the aftermath of Charlottesville and the bigotry and hatred spewed out from the white supremacists and neo- Nazi groups, the question, “Teresa, who do you say that I am?” has challenged me, confronted me and shaken me to my core.
Some say Jesus came to save me from my sins and save my soul. Others, appreciate Jesus’ teaching and message but don’t believe it has a tremendous or transforming influence on life in the 21st century. I believe that both groups have lost the vision of Jesus. To respond to the question, “Who do you say that I am?” implies that we know Jesus and why he came. Jesus tells us: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:16-19)
As a follower of Jesus Christ, what do I say and do in the midst of concerns about immigration and the move to exclude or deport the immigrant? As a follower of Jesus Christ, what do I say and do with the growing and blatant racism and bigotry? As a follower of Jesus Christ, what do I say and do with intolerance of anyone who is different in skin-color, ideology, theology, sexual persuasion, ethnic or economic background? As a follower of Jesus Christ, what do I say to the philosophy of “might makes right,” or violence is the response that will bring peace? As a follower of Jesus Christ, what do I say and do about poverty, injustice and oppression in all its many disguises? St. Francis said, “Preach the Gospel always and, if necessary, use words.”
“Teresa, who do you say that I am.” No matter what words I use to respond to this question presented to me in today’s gospel (and everyday), they mean nothing if my actions, the way I live my life, does not influence and shape how I treat my neighbors, how I treat the poor, the marginalized and those I label ‘enemy’. My words are empty if the focus is only on my own personal conversion and I think little of the common good. My words are meaningless, if I don’t walk the talk.
Peter ‘got it’, as we say. How, we don’t know, but we are also invited into that ability ‘to get’ who Jesus is. We are invited to a relationship that is a stronghold for our faith. We are invited to continue to explore and deepen that relationship. We are invited; we are asked; we are called. As we grow in that desire to deepen that relationship, we, like Peter, will be required to be growing in our responsibility to spread the Gospel as Jesus taught us: by bringing good news to the poor; proclaiming release to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, and letting the oppressed go free. Peter understands the identity of Jesus is more than his name. He recognizes Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah; “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
In his homily on August 20, 2017, Pope Francis said:
“Who knows what will happen to us when we open ourselves up to God and allow his Word to work within us? Who can imagine what will happen when we break out of the strangleholds and chains that have prevented us from going to the geographical and existential peripheries of our times and places? We might meet strangers and outsiders who interrupt our lives, stop us in our tracks, and force us to ask deeper questions. We may end up, like Jesus, praising the still greater faith in those strangers and outsiders who end up evangelizing us!”
We might even be able to respond to Jesus, calls us by name and asks, “_______, who do you say that I am?” with our words and our lives.
Sister Teresa Tuite, OP