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Aug 27, 2017

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Gospel MT 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.


Reflecting & Living God’s Words

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Gospel MT 16:13-20

Interesting Details:
•(v.13) Caesarea Philippi, where Peter professed that Jesus was the Messiah, is a city built by prince Philip on the slope of Mount Hermon, north of Palestine. This place was known as a place of divine revelation in the Old Testament.
•(v.16) The term "Messiah" reflects the disciples' hope that Jesus would deliver Israel from its enemies and establish God's kingdom on earth.
•Verse 16 is parallel to Mk 8:27-28. However Matthew added a further specification of Jesus' identity as the Son of the living God.
•The phrase the "Son of the living God" corrects any false implications present in the title Messiah. In the Jewish context, the word Messiah has for most people a very precise meaning: the coming Davidic king, the religious/political leader who would restore the power and glory of the nation of Israel. Jesus consistently refuses a political interpretation of his mission.
•(v.18) In the New Testament, Jesus mentions Peter's name 195 times as compared to 130 times for all the rest of Apostles.

One Main Point:
Peter makes his declaration of faith in Christ. Jesus appoints Peter as the leader of the Church as well as the gatekeeper of the kingdom of heaven.

1. If Jesus comes and asks me who he is, how would I answer? If someone asks me who Jesus is, how do I explain?
2. Jesus called Peter to be the leader of his Church. In what role does Jesus call me to be?
3. Imagine myself being present at Caesarea Philippi among the apostles; how does Jesus react (gesture, facial expressions, tone) to Peter's answer? How do the apostles react when Peter is named the leader of the Church?
4. Put myself in Peter's position; what will I do for the Church?


Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

(Is 22:19-23; Rm 11:33-36; Mt 16:13-20)

One of the biggest challenges to people’s faith is suffering. The question arises, "Why must I endure suffering?" Or, "What did they do to deserve so much pain?" It’s complicated. Among people who pray a lot there is a feeling that we should have a pass on suffering – after all, we pray and should have receive some benefits – shouldn’t we? It gets more complicated. Why do the innocent suffer, especially the very young? What’s more, why do evil people prosper; where is the justice in all that?

From the very beginning, the question of suffering has been a stumbling block for believers. I don’t presume to have an answer. Except, I do not believe God afflicts us with pain. Nor do I believe that God tests our faith to see how strong it is. I reject the explanation that many give, as an attempt to comfort to those in pain: "God never gives us more than we can bear." Nor do I believe, as some people say, "God is testing your faith." I don’t believe any of that because I believe in Jesus Christ and his gospel which reveals a God who loves us, even before we know that love, or do anything to return it.

We certainly don’t have to earn God’s love – Jesus says we already have it. That’s what I believe the gospel teaches about God. If anything, God is there with us in our suffering. In Jesus Christ God joined us in all we go through, because God wanted to show us that we are not alone in our most difficult times. I admit that doesn’t answer all my questions about suffering nor why each of us seems to have our own unique type of suffering. I try to put my faith in God’s love and then live with the mystery.

Today we hear Peter call Jesus, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Which Jesus applauds, "Blessed are you, Simon son of John." He tells Simon that God has given him the gift of faith. The Jewish people had lived under centuries of pain, oppression and questions like ours about suffering. What held them together was their belief that someday God would send a Messiah to deliver them from their woes; a Messiah who would take them from the bottom and put them on the top. So, when Peter calls Jesus "the Christ," that is what he has in mind: victory, freedom from pain, glory and world recognition – being on the top. Finally, it seemed, God had come to free them from their pain and long waiting to resolve their centuries of questions like, "God, why are we so abused if we are your beloved children, your chosen?"

Well, Peter was right about Jesus being a Messiah, "the Christ." But what he didn’t get was the kind of Messiah Jesus would be, one who would not rise above our suffering, but would join us in it. How mysterious is that! Later, Jesus will speak of the pain he will take on, "We are going to Jerusalem where the Son of Man will be handed over, suffer and be put to death." At that Peter will try to change Jesus’ mind, "Never!" Jesus, who called him "the Rock," will call him Satan, one more tempter to try to get Jesus to take the easy path out.

Jesus took on suffering for the benefit of others. There is nothing good about suffering in itself. But Jesus’ suffering was freely chosen for us. The type of suffering he is speaking of is not suffering from sickness, or surprising catastrophe. In those situations a person has no choice. Instead, Jesus freely chose suffering that was a consequence of his ministry and message. He could have turned away from that suffering, but he did not. Not only that, he will invite Peter, the apostles and us to also take up that suffering for the sake of the gospel. "If anyone wants to be my disciple, you must take up your cross and follow me."

We often call our pain and suffering our cross. True, because our suffering unites us with Christ’s. But the cross that Jesus speaks of is one he invites us to take up. We can accept it or reject it, because it is voluntary. In a world that never denies itself and puts "Me" first, when we respond to Jesus’ invitation we choose to sacrifice time, energy and resources for those in need. In a world that measures a person’s worth by appearance, place of origin, income and possessions, we choose to be with the poor, and speak up for the outsider, even at the cost of being rejected and ridiculed – our cross. In a world that rewards gold medals to the strongest and victorious, we choose to give a hand to the weak, infirmed, elderly and the homeless out of our time and resources – our cross. In a world that chooses violence and force as a solution to problems, or to get one’s way, we choose nonviolence, dialogue, love of enemies and we attempt to listen to another’s point of view – even when others call us naive – our cross. We make daily choices to take up the cross and follow Jesus.

All of this is so contrary to the perspective and values of our world and those around us, even in our own family. How can we live this kind of life, the life of a disciple? It requires what Jesus congratulated Peter for, and what Jesus would build up in Peter, a "rock-like faith." That faith will not succumb to the "gates of the netherworld," evil will not overcome us.

We come to the Eucharist to be nourished, because the netherworld tries, in many ways, to defeat our faith in the cross of Jesus. Here, in this place of worship, the one who gave himself in service to others, nourishes and strengthens us to do the same, take up his cross and follow him.

Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP