On the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) we heard the all-too-familiar reading from the Gospel of Matthew, wherein Simon Peter makes his well-known confession of faith. I say “all-too-familiar” because most of us have already heard it enough times to wonder if we need to hear it again. We might wonder if anything more need be said about it – which is another way of saying that we think we know all that needs to be known. As has been said in a number of different ways, “For all that we do know, we do know that we don’t know it all!” seems to fit here…
In those ‘keys’ were a primary symbol in the readings from Isaiah and Matthew, I therefore felt it important enough to ask myself what might be ‘key’ to these readings, as well as what might be ‘key’ to my faith and understanding as I reflected on these scriptures.
Key to the readings, I believe, was the failure of Shebna and Eliakim to serve their King (and by extension, their God). In the gospel we had the confession of faith and the naming of Peter (Petros), and the giving of ‘the keys to the kingdom of heaven,’ as well as the power to bind and loose.
I believe the key to our faith and understanding is the differentiation of the Jewish and Christian traditions. God’s covenant was key to Israel’s identity. For Christians, however, the person of Jesus the Christ is who gives meaning to our lives and is ‘key’ to our destiny.
Jesus asked the twelve, “But who do you say that I am?” It was an important question – indeed it was a great question! After all, at this point in time, the apostles had been with Jesus and heard and seen all that he had accomplished – so what did they think ? I mean, really – what were they thinking?
As the story tells us, it was Simon who replied (presumably for all) in his great confession, saying “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That little addition (Son of the living God), peculiar to the gospel of Matthew, took this to a much higher level! So, indeed, it was a great question for Jesus to ask. Immediately Simon was rewarded with a new name (Petros) – and with a mandate to build that living Temple of God, to be its Chief Steward!
Pondering Simon Peter’s response, however, led me to think about a follow-up question that Jesus might also have asked: But HOW do you say that I am? Beyond words, HOW will you give ‘voice’ to WHO I am ?
I came to consider this possibility because in only a few verses down the road Jesus is going to add a critical caveat for his disciples (followers). In Matthew 16:24 we read, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
Now here’s a game-changer if I’ve ever heard one!! I’ve got to take up a cross??
Well that only led me to think about another couple of questions. Generally speaking, I think it is a wise thing to calculate the ‘cost’ of my choices. While that could be a whole other reflection, for my purposes in this moment I would want to know what expectations come with the job, what talents or gifts might be required of me, what might this all look like? Am I really the one for this?
But the change-up is this – I need to ask Jesus a question: “Jesus, the Christ, Son of the living God, who do YOU say that I am?” In other words, who have you created me to be, and how have you gifted me in order that I might be a righteous and true disciple – in this time and place where you have planted me?
Wouldn’t it be great to hear that answer (?) !
But, wait, there’s another question: “Jesus, the Christ, Son of the living God, what is this cross I am invited to take up in order to follow in your ways?” After all, I’m not all that keen on being crucified…
The church that was to be built upon the ‘rock’ of Petros (Peter) was so much more than a building. It was to be a living community of believers and followers of Jesus, the Christ. I think the readings of the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time in Year A ask us to discern how we will BUILD and how we will BE the living Temple of Christ in this world we inhabit – in our families, our workplaces, our communities, and in our Church.
About 1600 years ago, St. Augustine addressed this very question in a famous writing, The City of God. Quite simply, Augustine saw the choice as whether to build the City of Man or to build the City of God. As it was 1600 years ago, so it is now!
The City of Man is the city of temporal goods, of prestige and power, of self-satisfaction and selfishness, of violence and death, of fleeting things and false gods – of choosing darkness over light – all of which ultimately fails to nourish and satisfy our deepest longings.
The City of God, on the other hand, is the city of life and compassion, where we put others first, where we lift up the weak and the most vulnerable, where we choose to listen and engage in dialogue, where we seek non-violence, where the light will truly conquer the darkness and where we are called to choose life instead of death. Building the City of God is, I believe, the cross that Christ invites us to take up and to carry as we strive to follow his ways.
Building the City of God is, I believe, the cross that Christ invites us to take up and to carry as we strive to follow in his ways.
Let us today, and all our days to come, be nourished by God’s word proclaimed to us in sacred scripture, by the Eucharist that we share, and by the abundance of God’s grace – freely given to us. Let us accept the invitation and the mandate given to Simon Peter – and given to us – to BUILD and to BE the living Body of Christ – for that is who we are called to be, for one another.