August 24, 2014 –– 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 22:19-23 / Romans 11:33-36 / Matthew 16:13-20
God At Work
Peter’s profound declaration about Jesus and the response of Jesus to Peter is one of the bedrock Scriptures of Catholicism. We hear this and it seems so apparent. Yet there are devout Christians who read and hear this and do not see it. I was one of them for almost fifty years of a dedicated faith life. When I finally “saw it”, it was as if someone gave me a major missing piece to a puzzle. After years of trying to be sure I was interpreting the Bible properly and faithfully proclaiming Christian Truth, I found relief in this text about the Church because it released me from trying to figure out all the things of God within my own understanding. Jesus has provided a protected authority.
On the other hand, being overly familiar with a text––as most practicing Catholics are with this Gospel––can limit one’s understanding. Even as I found a new “release” in these words, it is also possible for some people to hear this with a “restriction” from seeing beyond one basic truth. There is more here than Jesus founding the Church and establishing Petrine primacy.
This is not some isolated incident. It does not stand alone. It is not meant to be lifted out of its scriptural setting and isolated into one of several key dogmas. As we read and hear Scripture, we are being pulled into the activity of God who is at work for all that is right and good and true. This is part of God at work for our salvation. I say “part” because God was at work before this and he has been at work since. God is at work right now for our salvation!
God was at work when Isaiah was writing. There had been unfaithfulness in Israel. God’s desire for his people had been corrupted. Instead of being a model to the nations of who God is, Israel had become like the pagan nations around them. But in the words of St Paul in last week’s Epistle, the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. God never abandons his purpose to have a people who are distinctively his, and belonging to God “distinctively” means being holy––“different, for Jesus’ sake”. There comes a point where God says Enough! to the Shebnas who profane his name; God raises up people like Eliakim, people who honor the ways of God.
Think about this: God at work means, among other things, that he uses real people. Eliakim was a man, like us, who had a heart for God. Peter was a man––very much a regular human person with idiosyncrasies and weaknesses just like we have––but Jesus set him apart in a very special way for the work God is doing to save us.
In last week’s homily I differentiated between the big-picture––macro––activity of God and the small, detailed––micro––ways that God works in individual people. Peter was selected for a huge role in the big plan of God. The scope of the Church is beyond any one person’s comprehension, yet Peter was indeed a single individual. Jesus responded to Peter on the basis of who he was as one person. The same can be said today of Pope Francis. There is excitement and a palatable Spirit of Life in Pope Francis because he opens himself to Jesus.
Now, just because the “big” and the “personal” come together so demonstrably in people like Eliakim and St Peter and Pope Francis does not mean the same dynamic does not happen in people like you and me. We may not have recognition nor high visibility in the Church at large, but you and I can be personally so plugged into the big activity of God at work that we give witness to what is right and true and good within our own circles. When we confess with personal conviction that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, as Peter did, we get pulled into the same saving scope of God at work that has marked all the people of God through centuries and millennia. Each one of us can model holiness: being different for Jesus’ sake.
As we gather week by week in the Church that Jesus inaugurated with Peter, you and I––as individual persons––are participating in what it means––and has meant through the ages––that God is at work for our salvation. It is so intimate and at the same time so immense that we cannot fully comprehend it. All we can do is worship…. to bow our minds and hearts before the God who can work a salvation big enough for the whole world––truly a catholic salvation, and at the same time meet each one of us at the point of our personal need. Do you see it? God is at work in the Church founded by Peter; God is at work in you as you give yourself to him
What is your response to our Lord? How can we express such grandeur? The Holy Spirit has given us words through the Apostle:
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” "Or who has given the Lord anything that he may be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen.