21st Sunday in Ordinary Time; August 27, 2017
Is 22:19-23; Ps 138; Rom 11:33-36; Mt 16:13-20
Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison
St. Paul reminds us, in case we should ever forget, that “How inscrutable are (God’s) judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom 11: 33b) And, he underscores that truth with an exclamation point. This assessment is illustrated perfectly when Jesus confers religious leadership, involving sacred trust, to Simon called Peter. Peter, the impetuous one! Peter, the one given to braggadaccio! Peter, the one who denied Jesus three times! Peter, who was so afraid, that he took a pass on Jesus’ crucifixion! Of all the people Jesus could have selected to be the foundation of his Church, why did he choose the most unlikely person?
Such “inscrutable judgments” certainly have a long pedigree, beginning in the Old Testament as God made Israel his Chosen People, though it was the smallest and weakest of nations. He chose David to be his king par excellence, though David was the youngest of Jesse’s brood. God relates to us in this way so that there can be no doubt that the One Who is bringing about fruitful outcomes is God not us. God is the Doer; we’re the instruments.
So, the Lord gives incredible trust and authority to Peter (and his successors) as a person. Put simply, Jesus believes in the person of Peter. Peter does not “deserve” this sacred trust; but, the personal dynamic of Jesus believing in Peter (and us) draws the very best out of Peter. Jesus believes in those whom He calls. He is calling you, which is why you are participating in Catholic services this Sunday, and He trusts in you. He is giving to you His very Being: His soul and His divinity. He trusts that you will receive His life, which is eternal and that you will share it with others. As images of the triune, relational God, we are challenged to give and receive life. As you come to know Jesus at a deeper level of friendship and loving commitment, you will live your life rooted in Him. And, as you do that you will give to others what you have received in abundance.
As flawed as Peter was, he never stopped being in relationship with the Lord. Recognizing that Peter and his successors would bring to governance their frailty and sinfulness, Jesus reassures us that “the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it” (Mt 16: 18c). Jesus will not allow His Church to die! We make mistakes, but we will not turn ourselves over to death; though we sin, we will never totally go against the Gospel. The People of God, despite our flaws, will believe in Life and will proclaim the Gospel of the Lord. We may not always be faithful to the Lord but we believe that the Lord will always be faithful to the Church. And, through our baptism, we are a members of the Church, the Body of Christ. That’s why He will never give up on us.
Having given that reassurance, Jesus then states that “I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven (v. 19), which is God’s great gamble. God trusts the human gathering, called Church, to such a degree that he places it in our hands; he believes we will treasure it. He unconditionally gives us the “keys to the Kingdom!” All He asks us to do is to proclaim the Good News and share the Kingdom with others.
Why would God take this great gamble? While his “ways are inscrutable,” His trust in Peter and the Church should give us the faith to do the same with others: to entrust ourselves to feeble flesh, to broken people; to make ourselves accountable to brothers and sisters. If Jesus, the Son of the living God, can put himself in relationship to human flesh and entrust himself to broken humanity, then why can’t we? We can’t wait for perfect situations before we commit. Our pride contrasts sharply with Jesus who identifies with imperfect, often maddening humanity. Jesus gives Himself to an imperfect Church. As Bishop Quinn (emeritus) once said, “The Church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital of sinners.” Unfortunately, in the history of Christianity, we have resisted this truth as we tend to move away from imperfect groups. We want others to get their act together before we commit.
Jesus, on the other hand, gives remarkable trust and power to unworthy men and women. We tend to think that imperfect persons aren’t loveable; so, we use that as excuse never to love them. We never surrender ourselves to imperfect beings because the only One who is perfect is God. But, Church, love is a dynamic reality and at the human level, it only applies to imperfect beings. That’s why God does not adore us (adoration only applies to a perfect Being), but he loves us unconditionally. So, he calls us to do the same love/trust relationship with one another, with the Church, with the People of God. Look around this assembly: this is whom you’ve got; there is no Plan B. Go love and trust your brothers in Faith!