The first message we glean from our first reading (Isaiah 22:19-23) and Gospel passage (Matthew 16:13-20) on this 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time is about solidity.
It is conveyed by the image of a peg holding things together: “I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot.” (Isaiah 22:23)
And also by the new name given to Simon by Jesus: Rock, Kephas in the original Aramaic, petra in Greek and Latin, is rendered by its masculine form, Petrus, and the English form Peter.
The concept of solidity becomes inescapable if we keep in mind that Jesus walked a long distance with his twelve disciples to reach Caesarea Philippi where the surroundings are majestic and massive granite rock formations. This analogy is strengthened by giving to God’s chosen one custody of the most important keys, the keys of the Kingdom. The analogy is so forceful that when the one chosen by God (including Peter and his successors, the popes) opens, no one can shut, and whenever he shuts, no one can open.
This uniqueness is due to the awesome fact that, in Jesus, God has established a direct linkage between heaven and earth, between himself and Peter (and future popes). Uniqueness means that it is not one of several, but the only link, the only bridge between heaven and earth.
The whole imagery of solidity, of course, is comforting and reassuring, but also compelling us to embrace ALL that heaven offers us through this unique link. “Cafeteria Catholics” picking and choosing what to accept and live by and what to ignore of the deposit of faith, exhibit a blatant inconsistency with this powerful message.
The second message gleaned from this gospel passage deals with the title Son of Man. Chosen by Jesus, purposely, from the many images offered by the prophets of old, it allows the fullest revelation of him as the only bridge, the only link between God and man, between heaven and earth. This emphasis on the humanness of Christ, his physicality is not only the best way for him to touch each one of us in our humanity; but also, the only way we can respond to him in a manner pleasing to him according to the Father’s plan while still living on this earth.
In the Gospel of Matthew (16:13-20), the Father reveals the Son of Man as the One he has anointed to make us divine. As such, this is a revelation beyond what flesh and blood could have generated in Simon Peter’s puny mind.
Peter and any of us, no matter how brilliant our mind might be, could never go past the flesh and blood of Jesus’ humanity to see in him the Son of the living God.
And one final message: Jesus, as the Son of Man, forever present to the Father in the fullness of his humanity, secures meaning and solid hope for the messy and embarrassing lives of each one of God’s adopted children, from Simon Peter to the last sin-affected mortal left on the earth at the end of time.
Jesus, the Son of the living God and the Son of Man, is seated at the right hand of the Father with his glorified body but still forever showing the scars of his and our very human, very real wounds.
On the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, we will read (Matthew 16: 21-23) past today’s passage, past the explosive insight the Father revealed to Simon Peter, the Rock about his Christ (Anointed) and his promise about the perennial solidity of the Church.
There, Peter’s flesh and blood, that is his flawed humanity and nearsighted expression of love are in full display as he, the Rock, tries to dissuade Jesus from going through with his plan of embracing a horrific passion and death on a cross.
Peter, the Rock, and all of us with him, must keep in mind that, unless we rely on the light the Son of the living God-the Son of Man gives us, we quickly shift from being his disciples to being disciples of Satan…
The message of meaning and solid hope is confirmed by the fact that Peter was chosen despite his threefold denial as well as by Jesus’ assurance of his constant assistance (cf. Hebrews 2:11-ff.) and that he is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters before our common Father.
We can mess up our life a lot, but the Lord Jesus will not be ashamed to call us his brothers/sisters and intercede before his Father for compassion and patience in dealing with us. However, the Son of Man, expects of each one of us also a direct and very personal identification of who he is. “But who do YOU say that I am?”
And this is something which we must do individually, all by ourselves, even though hesitantly, painfully, amid doubts and mistakes.
The solidity of the Rock, the uniqueness of the keys entrusted to Peter and his successors, the firmness of the peg holding together aspects of our faith, are simply the basis on which we ought to build our personal relationship with Jesus.
Jesus won’t have it any other way.
It will take the rest of our life on earth to answer this, the most personal, most existential question there is. It is so because it can be answered thoroughly and correctly only while owning up to our sins, errors, stubbornness, hesitations, fears and all the other embarrassing incidents scattered across the span of our life on earth. It is answered little by little, in silence, in contemplation of his presence within us, painstakingly, with perseverance and endurance born of sincere love, in purified awareness that something beyond words, beyond flesh and blood, is taking place within us.
Thus, today we resolve to be open to all truths as taught by Jesus and interpreted by the teaching authority of the Church. We decide to cooperate fully with the Holy Spirit to see how blessed we are despite our hurts, confusion, and weaknesses precisely because we rely on the humanness that Christ Jesus, the Son of Man, shares and will share with us forever.