Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Proper of the Day: The 15th Sunday after Pentecost

I've been on vacation, visting St. Gregory's Abbey in Shawnee, OK, for the ordination and first Mass of my longtime friend the Rev. Boniface Copelin. He was ordained on Thursday and celebrated Solemn Mass today at the Abbey Church. On this day - the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time in the Roman Rite - the Abbey community and guests gathered to hear from Isaiah, Romans, and Matthew. Fr. Boniface's sermon concentrated on Peter's confession of Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, and he asked us to consider what each of us will say when the time comes in our lives when we will really have to decide what to say and more importantly, what to do about it. Update: Here's Fr. Boniface's sermon:
The Scottish poet, Robert Burns wrote: “Oh would some power the gift to give us, to see ourselves as others see us.”

In this passage, Jesus is doing something which most people find dangerous. It is quite easy to believe that the image which we have of ourselves is the image which others see. We have this façade which we have created and which we wish people will believe is who we really are. Often, much to our chagrin, we find that no façade so constructed can perfectly hide our defects, our imperfections. We cannot truly deceive the rest of the world.

In today’s Gospel, however, we have a different take. First Jesus asks the disciples what the crowds are saying about him. (On the human level this is very dangerous. Would we really like to know what others think of us?) He has previously used the image of the Son of Man, the Messiah, as a veiled reference to himself. He never says, “I am the Son of Man” but it is reasonably clear that he is referring to himself when he does use the expression. He hopes that the people will catch on and complete the sequence: Jesus of Nazareth-Son of Man-Son of God. So he asks them: “Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?” The response he gets is that he is of those of the noble profession of the prophets; men who declare God’s righteousness and remind God’s people of their obligation to follow God’s law.

Then, Jesus does that which at the human level is even more dangerous. He asks his disciples who they themselves think he is. He wants to know (or perhaps wants to make sure that they know that THEY are getting it?) This time he is not veiling the question in the title “Son of Man” but he says “Who do you say that I am?”.

Then up steps Simon to the plate. Simon Bar-Jonah has quite a reputation in the New Testament. For most of the Gospels he apparently opens his mouth without fully engaging his brain, thereby firmly sticking his foot into that open mouth. But here, he gets it right the first time out of the chute; and in his impetuosity he blurts out “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. In the synoptic Gospels, this is the first time that any of the disciples affirms to Jesus that they recognize him as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, and in doing so Simon shows that the Father has given him the key to understanding the mystery of Christ.

As a result, he receives from the Lord his vocation to be the Rock for the others. (It is interesting to note that there is apparently no record of using the Greek Petros or the Aramaic Kephas as a name before this time. Consequently, some scholars indicate that the best translation therefore would be “You are the Rock” rather than “You are Peter”. ) We will see in the rest of the Gospels that Peter has a great deal of trouble saying the right thing at the right time. He will even, at the time of Our Lord’s interrogation by the Sanhedrin save his own skin by denying any knowledge of Jesus. But, after Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit, everything changes and he will fulfill the vocation given him in this passage by the Lord to be the Rock of faith for the others. For the Church, he becomes the touch-stone of faith. And his faltering starts before Pentecost become merely steps of humility as he prepares for the awesome ministry which he will have to strengthen the faith of the others; and like Shebna and Eliachim in today’s first reading he is given keys for admitting and restricting access and for locking up and distributing the treasure of the Kingdom.

God knows whether we believe of not. We do not need to prove our faith to him. But, sometimes we do need to prove our faith to ourselves. We need to be able to say with Simon-Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God; so that when those times come when we will have to stand beside ourselves and ask “Do I believe or not and if so, how am I supposed to act now?” we can act according to that Faith. If we have found the same Key which the Peter found in his confession we will also find, if we listen to the Lord, our vocation. Perhaps it will be what we are called to do in a specific instance in our lives. Perhaps it will be the question of what course our lives will take. We may not be called, like Simon, to be the touch-stone of faith for the entire Church but we are each called to something. And we cannot do that ‘something’ without also knowing in the very depth of our being that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.


There does not seem to be an online source for the Roman Opening Prayer (the Collect of the Day in our terms) so I can't reproduce it here. However, in the spirit of ecumenism here is Collect for Unity from the Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty Father, whose blessed Son before his passion prayed for his disciples that they might be one, as you and he are one: Grant that your Church, being bound together in love and obedience to you, may be united in one body by the one Spirit, that the world may believe in him whom you have sent, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


No comments: