Sunday, August 24, 2014
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 16:13-20 (New American Bible, Revised Edition)
13 When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”16 Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”17Jesus 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.18 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.19 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.”20 Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.
The lectionary, as on some other occasions, has taken a good leap from last week’s passage in Matthew’s Gospel to today’s fragment. After last week’s section, a number of events have taken place: Jesus cured some sick people; multiplied bread and fish a second time, feeding 4,000 people; and he gave the disciples some words of advice concerning their relationship with the Pharisees. And now we come back to Simon Peter and his moment of grandeur. We must remember that in the past weeks he has been present in our readings, either personally, or by means of allusions or hints. Today, he will confirm his attitude as a humble follower of Jesus, moved and inspired by God himself. The geographical context of our fragment, Caesarea Philippi, has a number of connotations related with political, nationalistic and religious ideas and events, all of which involve power. It is right here that Jesus poses two questions. In the first, the subject is “others,” the people who surround him, hear his words and see his actions. The answer does not concern the disciples, nor does it involve Jesus himself, as he is asking about the opinion of his public role, that of “the Son of Man.” The answers have “some” or “others” as their subject and, obviously, are of no special concern to the disciples, their faith or involvement with Jesus and his project. And here we find the kernel of our text. The second question posed by Jesus is personally addressed to them and refers not to his role, but to his person as such: “Who do YOU say that I am?” The key words are, in this case, the two personal pronouns. It seems Jesus wants to know on what ground he is standing before taking a new step and revealing to the disciples his real plans as the Messiah. Is the group of his chosen ones, “the little flock,” ready to understand what lies ahead of him and, consequently, of them? (We will see that next Sunday.) And here comes Peter, as the spokesman of the Twelve. His solemn confession of faith in Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” was used on other occasions, although it did not always imply a profession of faith (e.g., Matthew 4:3, 6; 26:63). Here, according to Jesus’ own words, the expression can only be the result of the action of the Father, who blesses and reveals his wisdom to the “childlike,” not to the “wise and the learned” (Matthew 11:25-27). In a sense, it is that humble condition what allows us to understand “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” (Romans 11:33). And this leads to Simon having his name transformed. A new name means a new role, a new mission in the community; his ministry of keeping the keys of the Kingdom, to open or close access to it; and a guarantee that the forces of death will never overcome the community of believers. When we think of the actual role Peter played in the first moments of the Church, we have the feeling that Jesus’ choice was not the very best, humanly speaking, but that is something we will see next Sunday. In any case, Peter appears in this section (an event related only by Matthew) as an outstanding character in the founding of the small community which would become the Church.
The entire passage from Matthew’s Gospel has become such a controversial section in the history of the Church, that we run the serious risk of forgetting our task here: that of meeting the Lord in the silence of prayer. So, let us put aside theological issues and focus our attention on the role played by Simon as the one who openly faces Jesus’ question, not as a mere survey of the disciples’ opinion but as the demand of a serious commitment to his project. How often do we face that question and how far could we go in our confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Lord of our existence? Are we humble enough so as to be blessed with the gift of recognizing Jesus as the Lord? The fact that Peter received a new name and, consequently, a new mission, should make us think about the name we ourselves received at our baptism. Are we conscious, both of the commitment to Christ we accepted and the dignity bestowed on us as members of his Body?
Pray for those who avoid giving a personal answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say…?” and hide their doubts or lukewarm faith behind the shield of a common, “inherited” religious tradition: that they may openly give a personal answer to Jesus’ calling. Pray for those who are afraid of proclaiming openly that Jesus is the Lord: that they may receive the courage to announce him as their Savior. Do not forget those who need a word of Christian wisdom, the humble witness of true believers: that they may find Jesus through the words and deeds of those who endeavor to follow him.
Let us, once again, take Peter as an example of a believer who knows his shortcomings and failures. In contrast with today’s solemn statement, read the passage in which he humbly recognizes only Jesus can offer the salvation everyone needs: “Master, to whom shall we go?”… (John 6:66-69). Let his words become a short prayer to enhance your confidence in the “Son of God.”
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón, Roman Catholic priest, Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain
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Lectio Divina is a weekly framework for a faithful and respectful reading of the Bible, coordinated with the Catholic lectionary calendar.
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