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Friday, 21 August 2020

21st Sunday Year A 2020

          Sermon 146a:Twenty-first Sunday, (A)

(Isaiah 22:19-23; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20)

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How inscrutable are His judgments and how unsearchable His ways!  For, from Him, through Him and for Him, are all things.  To Him be glory forever.  Amen.

That hymn of St Paul expresses beautifully the spirit which animates those who have a true appreciation of God; and since the Incarnation and Work of our Redemption are the greatest works of God’s inscrutable wisdom, how could any mere mortal know the dispositions of God in regard to His Christ, the Messiah?

When the mother of James and John asked Jesus for positions for her two sons, one at His right hand and the other at His left in His Kingdom (Matthew 20:21), Jesus answered that, despite the sacrifices she and her husband Zebedee had made  by wholeheartedly supporting their sons decisions to leave home and their father’s business in order to follow Jesus, it was not for Him Jesus -- out of an imaginary debt of gratitude? -- to give places such as she was asking for, because they were exclusively at the disposal of His heavenly Father and belonged to those  whom His Father had chosen or would choose to give them.  Thus, there was mystery even for Jesus concerning His disciples: true, He had chosen them, but they had been sent to Him by His Father (John 6:44):

            No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draw him.

And so, in today’s Gospel reading, when Jesus puts the question:

            Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

and then follows it with another:

            But who do you say that I am?

we can sense Him waiting to discover which of the disciples the Father would choose to give the right understanding of the mystery of His Person. 

It was then that Simon spoke up, giving voice to a wisdom that was not his own:

            You are the Christ the Son of the living God!

Who has known the mind of the Lord?  writes St. Paul; and Jesus -- recognizing His man, so to speak -- said in response to Simon’s assertion:

Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My heavenly Father.

And here we are at a supremely significant moment for the Church of Jesus: the Father has picked out, designated, Simon for special prominence in the proclamation of the truth about Jesus’ Person, and in the continuance and extension of His ministry of saving grace; and Jesus, recognizing His Father’s intervention, adopts His Father’s choice by Himself appointing Simon as head of His Church by bestowing on him a new name, Peter, for that very purpose and function:

And so, I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

The name Peter is a translation (through the Greek) of the Aramaic word ‘Kepha’, which is identical in form either as a personal name, or as the noun, ‘rock’.

People of God, this is also a moment of great significance for each of us personally.   The Church, as a visible structure, is established, founded, upon Peter’s faith; and in like manner, as regards the interior and spiritual life of each one of us, the Kingdom of God is to be established in consequence of our act of faith.  The whole supernatural life-stream in us originates with our act of faith whereby we say ‘yes’ to God’s revelation, and to Mother Church’s proclamation, of Jesus.  Just as Mary said ‘yes’ to Gabriel’s message, so our ‘yes’ of faith-in-Jesus allows God’s saving grace to enter our lives and begin to totally transform and transfigure them.

But what kind of faith is this?  Earlier in St. Matthew’s Gospel (14:33) we were told how Our Lord walked on the waves of the storm-tossed lake towards His disciples labouring hard to keep their boat afloat, and how Peter had – at Jesus’ bidding – begun to walk from the boat towards Jesus, before hesitating and then beginning to sink.  Jesus rebuked Peter for his little faith as He raised him up, before they both got into the boat and the wind ceased.  Whereupon, we read that:

Those in the boat worshipped Him saying, ‘Truly, You are the Son of God.’

To those words Jesus answered nothing at all so far as we know.  Yet later on, Jesus having left the Sea of Galilee with His disciples for the northern hills approaching Mt. Hermon, when Peter used similar words as reported in today’s Gospel:

            You are the Christ the Son of the living God!

Jesus proclaimed him blessed because he had been favoured with a revelation from His heavenly Father.

What was, what is, the difference between: ‘You are the Son of God’, and, ‘You are the Christ the Son of the living God’, that brought about such a reaction from Jesus?

In the second example Peter recognizes Jesus as not only the ‘Son of God’ but also as the Christ, the Messiah … in other words, as distinct from the terrified disciples’ acclamation of Jesus as Son of God, that is as One able to perform such wonders as silencing the storm, which was an acclamation which expressed their own relief as much as it acknowledged Jesus’ sovereign power, Peter’s inspired exclamation expressed no such personal relief, but ‘with heart and voice’ he proclaimed a divinely bestowed awareness of Jesus not just as the powerful Son of God able to work miracles, but as the SAVIOUR; the Son of God indeed, but come to save and redeem from -- make atonement for – the sins of Israel and all mankind!    And this was presaged years before by Zacharias the father of John the Baptist, one taught of God about the calling and future mission of his son:

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for He has visited and brought redemption to His people.   He has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David His servant, even as He promised through the mouth of His holy prophets from of old.  (Luke 1:68–70)

Yes, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, the faith which saves us today, the faith which is God’s gift, is not merely knowledge about God, but the ability to recognize and respond to the divine truth of God’s presence and saving-power in Jesus -- His beloved, only begotten Son, come among us as Man in order to-save-us-from-sin in His Person and through His Church.

There are those today who denigrate concern for doctrinal accuracy, not only in public words but also personal thinking.  For them, with them, the words ‘dogma’ and ‘dogmatic thinking’ have acquired unsavoury overtones of meaning whereby they are said to imply an overbearing, intolerant, and rigidly narrow cast of mind, to stifle our spontaneity and thwart our native spiritual growth.  Again, such thinkers and speakers claim that there is no such thing as objective truth, no incontrovertible truth concerning God.

But look at Jesus in today’s Gospel!  How interested and concerned He was that men, above all His disciples, should think the truth about Himself; and such was His esteem for that truth that when He heard Simon give voice to it He immediately concluded with absolute certainty that His Father had spoken to and through Simon, with the result that He most solemnly declared:

Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My heavenly Father.

Moreover, He then went on to speak words of enduring validity:

And so, I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

Again, later on He would declare (John 18:37):

For this was I born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth;

and would, on the eve of His crucifixion speak in prayer to His Father these most holy words:

Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you, and these (You have given Me) know that You sent Me (John 17:25),

where knowledge of truth embraces as one with the Father, both Jesus and His disciples.

Faith is, indeed, a most sure knowledge of divine truth, for Jesus Himself is ‘the Truth’; and it requires, calls for, a total commitment of love.

To know the Truth, to recognize the Truth, to appreciate, love and proclaim the Truth … that is a most sure sign of God’s loving presence.  On the other hand, to embrace error, rejecting the truth, is subject to the following dread judgment of Our Lord:

Because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.  Whoever belongs to God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not listen, because you do not belong to God.  (John 8:45-47)

A theologian may be able to write volumes about God and more volumes about the Church and what it should be like ... but that, in itself, is not the exercise of Christian faith.  You who see in Christ your own Saviour, you who have come to Mass,  who draw near to the Holy Table at Communion, you who frequent the Sacraments and listen to the Word of God and obey it … you are those of whom  Jesus said:

Blessed are you; for flesh and blood have not revealed (such things) to you but My heavenly Father!

That ability to recognize Jesus as SAVIOUR, the God-Man, come to save each one of us personally, and to offer that salvation to the whole of mankind by means of His uniquely Personal self-sacrifice on Calvary, now sacramentally offered in His name in His Church, that is the true Christian faith which is the Father’s best gift.

A most important aspect of the need for dogmatic teaching in the Church and accurate personal thinking is the fact that our thoughts guide our choices and form our characters.  And that is the reason for the apparently strange, but in reality most significant expression in the New Testament writings, to do the truth (John 3:21; in the Latin, ‘qui facit veritatem’) well rendered in a more modern idiom by:

Whoever lives (practices) the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

You who are true disciples of Jesus and desire earnestly to grow in love of Him and fidelity to Him, know, hold fast to your awareness of Catholic doctrine.  Do not let random vague feelings determine your deliberate thoughts, do not allow the emotionality of those who speak so much about the sufficiency of human help, human goodness, mutual sympathy, and scientific pseudo-knowledge (science knows nothing more than the latest working hypothesis) betray your oneness with the eternal, creating-supporting-and-saving God.  But rather, through your deliberate thoughts mould and adapt your feelings to the Truth of Jesus in the Church, and then endeavour whole-heartedly to love that Truth -- at times it has to be willed as Truth before it can become loved as Truth -- with your total commitment.

Note also that Simon said ‘You are the Christ’ foretold by the prophets from of old; the Christ whose message is for Israel and for the whole world through Israel; the Christ with Whom the whole world in all its inarticulate beauty, majesty, and power resonates in deep, mysterious, harmony; the Christ who fulfils all the longings and desires of the human heart; the Christ in Whom alone our individual lives at last take on a transcendent significance and purpose, so that we begin to experience something of the unimaginable joy of life penetrated through and through with a love leading to fulfilment both temporal and eternal.

In this aspect of our Catholic and Christian faith, People of God, lies the hidden treasure of our heavenly calling and earthly service for our world today; for we have to live ever more deeply our faith that Jesus is the unique Christ and only Saviour for the whole of mankind, because He is Perfect God and Perfect Man. We must develop our ability -- by grace and through prayer -- to recognize and respond to Him; and, in Him, with Him, we must learn to love the Father in heaven and our brethren on earth at all times and in all circumstances.  Only as we -- His humble and sincere disciples -- appreciate this ever more fully, will we be truly living in the heart of this sinful world as authentic witnesses to and members of Jesus, and in Him as Spirit-formed and Spirit-endowed children of the heavenly Father.