Fr. Charles Irvin
21st Sun [A] 2014
Isaiah 22:19-23; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20
We don’t often think of it, but the gospels are loaded with questions. Sometimes it seems like there are more questions than there are answers. Questions imply a quest, a search, and a hunger for knowledge. Genuine questions that is, not trick questions. The word “question” contains within it the word “quest.” That’s what Jesus liked… people who are in search for truth, who are questing for God.
So we find Jesus in today’s gospel asking: “Who do you say that I am?” And we find Simon Peter answering the question by identifying Jesus as the Son of God. Evidently Peter recognized something deep within Jesus that was divine, someone coming from God. But Peter came to that as a consequence of Jesus asking him a question. Jesus in response sees something deep within Peter that Peter couldn’t see for himself.
In a sense Jesus introduced Peter to himself. “Okay,” Jesus said, “you told me who I am. Now let me tell you who you are. You are Rock!” This quality was not, I am quite sure, something that Simon Peter recognized within himself. No doubt it was a big surprise, not only to Peter himself but also to all who knew him. Probably no one would have thought that about him. Nevertheless he was previously known as Simon and now, because of Jesus, he was entering into a new self-identity. It took long time, however, because Peter’s behavior with respect to Jesus was anything but solid and rock-like until after Christ’s resurrection.
All of this was typical of Jesus. Jesus judged differently, He went beyond appearances. We judge people by appearances… Jesus judges with penetrating insight. He went deep inside people and saw the best that was in them. Then He tried to get them to become aware of those wonderful qualities deep within themselves.
St. Augustine once said: “Dig deep enough in any person and you will find something divine.” That’s a perfect description of how Jesus works with us. Put Jesus one-on-one with any person and He will dig until He finds something God-like, something divine, within us. Then He will do everything He can to draw it out of us and into the open. We should do the same.
That’s what He did with the woman caught in the act of adultery. He saw something in her that was far deeper than her sinfulness. Underneath her worst He never doubted that there was something better. And when all her accusers had departed and only Jesus was left standing with her He did not condemn her even though He recognized her sins. She must have left His presence that day with a whole new vision of who she was. She finished that day with an entirely new identity… a new name for herself…a good name… and a whole new person with a new life ahead of her.
We all hear a lot of bad news about ourselves. We all have a little inner voice that constantly gives us bad news about ourselves. People around us sometimes give us bad news about ourselves. Jesus, on the other hand, comes to give us good news. The good news of Jesus Christ is all about who we really are and who we can become. The good news is this: inside each one of us there is the person God meant us to be. Deep within us is the person God our Father dreams we can be. Hopefully we will eventually come to see that. There’s an identity, a name that God has given you that is nothing but good. We don’t need to import anything from the outside. All of the skills and talents God originally gave us are still there. All of the personality traits are there. We simply need to become the person our Father always meant us to be, to bring out of ourselves the best that’s within us.
That’s what Peter eventually came to. But he couldn’t do it all by himself – he needed Jesus to draw it out, changing his name so that he could change his picture of himself. Remember that is what is involved when God gives us a name in our baptism, a name and an identity that comes from God our Father.
What I am sharing with you here isn’t just pop psychology. What I’m sharing with you is the notion that Jesus has given us the highest concept of God the world has ever known, a Father who created us to be like His Only Begotten Son.
Why in the world, then, do we depict God to be mean, angry, vengeful and capricious in how He gives us His love? Why do we depict God as being responsible for every disaster that befalls us? Most likely that’s because we image ourselves that way. We try to fashion God in our own image and likeness. We make God to be angry and condemning because that’s the way we see ourselves and others. We have a bad self-image, a rotten self-identity, and we’ve given God a bad name in the process. Jesus, however, has given us a picture of ourselves, an identity, that’s quite the opposite.
God is always forgiving, always trusting, always faithful, always loving. We’ve grown cynical and bitter, unloving, cold, and indifferent, if not actually mistrusting of others. Jesus counters by asking us to be like God – to forgive without limit, to trust others no matter how many times they disappoint us, to keep on loving no matter what, to keep on believing in the basic goodness within others no matter how they may appear to us on the surface. We, with Jesus, should always hate the sins of others but love other sinners just as much as God loves them. We need to regard them as He regards you and me.
Finally, Jesus calls us to live together as a family, a family that He calls His Church, a family of faith. He called it “my church”, and He declared that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Hell vanishes in the face of love; the devils flee in the face of trusting, forgiving, believing, and hoping love. Jesus knows that we can’t be our best all alone, all by ourselves. The best within us is always brought out in loving relationships with others. No amount of evil can ever overcome any amount of love. That’s why the gates of hell are powerless in the face of it and we become like Rocks of Gibraltar, like St. Peter became the Rock, when we face of all of life’s storms thrown up against us.
This coming week we will all go out to face a very difficult world. Be kind to everyone you meet. Every one of them is fighting his or her own hard battle. There are many things in our world that appeal to the worst within us. That’s why it’s so important to hear the words that Jesus addressed to Peter as being addressed to us. We need to hear Jesus appealing to the best within us. He said to Simon: “You are rock.” Jesus is saying something similar to you and to me today in this Mass, in His Word that you have just heard in sacred scripture. It was written for you. Listen to what Jesus is saying to you, and then face each day of this coming week in the midst of our very troubled world, trying to remember just who it is Jesus says you are and who He meant you to be.