21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A – Peter the Rock
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
Peter The Rock
“And now, at this moment, weak servant of God that I am, I must assume this enormous task, which truly exceeds all human capacity. How can I do this? How will I be able to do it?”
These are the words on the lips of Pope Benedict XVI during his Inaugural Mass Homily. From the time Jesus left this earth He has given us a “Rock”, a Peter, on which we can lean on and continue to build the Church upon. How can God build his Church on limited and weak human beings?
The whole Gospel story with its cast of constantly unlikely and surprising characters, reaches a new level when we come to Peter. He is the only one Jesus calls a devil (Mk 8:33), he is the only one who directly denies Jesus (Mk 14:66-72). His first response in every encounter is always wrong (Jn13:8), he is the patron saint of those who “put their foot in it”!
And yet he is clearly the one whom Jesus makes the spokesman and the symbol for this whole new enterprise that He is starting. What’s going on here? ……. I think something very beautiful and mysterious. Peter is undoubtedly every man and every woman. He is humanity at its most lovable and disheartening best. Peter is a grand and honest statement about how we come to God. This pattern is a great shock and surprise for many and even a disappointment. We clearly come to God not by our perfection first of all but ironically and paradoxically by getting it wrong and being able to trust in God’s mercy when we fall. Perfection is a fruit of union with God. Perfection for perfection makes for up-tight, cold-hearted and boring Catholics. If you are waiting to be perfect to love God, buy yourself a nice Rolex because you will be waiting a long time.
What made Peter ready to be the first Pope? Was it his leadership qualities? His courage? Single-mindedness (not to say stubbornness)? His faithfulness… it seems like no is the answer to all of the above… the moment in the Gospel when Peter is ready to lead the Church, when he becomes a real rock, is when he accepts to be forgiven. It’s the greatest thing he ever did and the greatest act we will ever do.
If we look at the holy people of the Old Testament, very few fit our criteria for holiness… Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (or as a 2nd grader once said; 300 porcupines!)1 K 11:3.
Biblical holiness has more to do with God’s call, God’s grace, God’s faithfulness to us and not the faithfulness of our response. Which is why the Gospel text goes out of its way to show Peter’s first response as almost always incorrect and his second response almost always forced upon him by the goodness and patience of Jesus. Peter is the first in foolishness but also the first in surrender (Jn 13:9). That is the normal path, our own path if you have noticed. God does not love Peter because Peter is good, God loves Peter because God is good.
In Peter’s revolts we see our own revolts. Peter recognized Jesus’s mastership and Lordship, even that He was Savior but refused the way in which Jesus was going. God reveals His strength and His ultimate victory in apparent weakness, littleness and defeat.
“What I am doing you do not know now but afterwards you will understand.” (Jn13:7). Notice how the rare few times Jesus gets angry in the Gospel is when people refuse to accept the mystery of the cross (Mt 16). Jesus kept talking to his disciples about His paschal journey, three times in Mark’s gospel Jesus tells them the necessity of a death journey, and three times they (the disciples) changed the subject (8:31-10:45). It is undoubtedly why Jesus stopped talking about it and just did it!
Many Catholics admire and worship the path of liberation and transformation that Jesus took by his passion, death and resurrection and forget that He has called us not to watch and be a spectator, but to follow Him, to do it. It is a path which liberates and transforms us deep within, it is the only path that can lead us through a broken world.
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