FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Isaiah 22:19-23 | Psalm 138: 1-2, 2-3, 6, 8 | Romans 11: 33-36 | Matthew 16: 13-20
The readings for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, teaches us that the truly faithful would receive their reward from God, that theologizing should ultimately lead us to worship God and that we are continually transformed by Jesus' love, forgiveness and patience.
There was a busload of politicians driving down a country road, when all of a sudden, the bus ran off the road and crashed into a tree in an old farmer’s field. Broderick, the old farmer, after seeing what happened, went over to investigate. He then proceeded to dig a hole and bury the politicians. A few days later, Officer Gaudencio, the local police chief came out, saw the crashed bus and asked peasant Broderick where all of the politicians had gone. He said he had buried them. Officer Gaudencio asked the old farmer, “Were they ALL dead?” Broderick replied, “Well, some of them said they weren’t, but you know how politicians lie!"
Isaiah prophesied during the reign of King Hezekiah, a religious king devoted to the Lord. In our First reading (22: 15-25), we learn about the al-bayith, literally "over the household" of the royal house of Israel. The al-bayith is the prime minister or the one left in charge while the king was away. This officer is clothed with a robe, had authority, and was referred to as a "father" (Latin pāpa). He possesses the keys to the house of David and had the power to “bind and loose.” His role was permanent, he had a throne of honor and the whole weight of his father’s house hung on his shoulders. These few verses implied Eliakim was promoted for his loyalty to Isaiah and the king. But, Shebna suffered demotion from making decisions for the people contrary to the mind of God and for using his office to glorify himself. The power of these verses were not in the people mentioned. These verses remind us that there was such a thing as ultimate judgment and such belonged in the hands of God. Are you also disconcerted and frustrated with this disaster that our leaders have brought upon the population? Like Shebna, the prime minister who was removed from office by God, most of our political leaders, if not all, made decisions for the people contrary to the mind of God and used their office to glorify themselves during this pandemic. They failed the test in both words and deeds. Uniquely unqualified, they are the wrong people in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Lord is trying to tell us here that “might does not make right”. The truly faithful would receive their reward, while the devious and two-faced would suffer condemnation. It has been said: “The highways of history are untidily scattered with the ruins of nations that forgot God” (Cf. Psalm 9:17).
One day Jesus conversed with seminarians in a premier Theological School in Quezon City. and said unto them, 'Who do you say that I am?' And they replied, 'You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationship.' And Jesus said: 'What'?"
In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul appealed to the philosophic bent of Greek culture and he recognized the Hebrew understanding of God as “unknowable” and “infinite.” The riches and wisdom of the knowledge of God are always too deep to penetrate, God’s judgments and ways are unsearchable. No theologian has ever known the mind of the Lord. No theology, however venerable, can claim to be absolute. As Saint Augustine said in one of his sermons, “If you can grasp it, it isn’t God.” In any event, God’s wisdom and knowledge are deep—rich—beyond measure. He knows everything about us from the crown of our head to the soles of our feet—from morning till night—from womb till tomb. There comes a time when the theologian must lay down the pen and declare the relativity of all his postulations. Theology is therefore best done in the context of worship. It must be doxological. Since God is far greater than we can comprehend and we are not great, we must always humble ourselves before God and worship Him.The point of all the deep ongoing parish formation seminars, theological instruction, bible study, catechesis and faith conferences is to bring us to humble worship before our great God. If our study of theology doesn’t lead us to deeper worship, we might not be studying it correctly.
There’s a practice that originated many years ago in Japan called Kintsugi. In our experience, when we have a teacup with a broken handle or something similar, we might get out the super glue and try to repair it as seamlessly as possible, hoping it will look like it was never broken. But Kintsugi does the opposite. It acknowledges the brokenness, and actually ends up articulating and highlighting it. It repairs the broken and chipped pottery and ceramics by putting back together, but not in its original form. Instead the restoration process involves the use of pure gold to mend the divides and heal the fissures. The broken vessel is put back together in such a way that it is stronger and more beautiful than before it was broken.
Our Gospel lesson finds Jesus and his disciples on a stroll in north of Galilee in a lush area near the foot of Mount Hermon called Caesarea Philippi. Not only was it the religious center for worship of the Greek god Pan, but also an economically powerful, cosmopolitan urban center like financial and lifestyle districts of Bonifacio Global City in Taguig and Eastwood City in Quezon City. As such, there were multiple information streams, public and private, that spread information, usually polarized or competing ideas. It is in this setting that Jesus gave the disciples a little surprise quiz. He said, "You guys have been milling around among the people. What do you hear them saying about me? Who do they think I am?" For clarification Jesus changed his question,"Who do you say that I am?" Then God spoke out from Simon's impulsive heart, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!" Catholic scholars naturally maintain that the Petrine office is vested in the papacy. It is in view of this royal office that we hear Jesus, the King of Israel, declares that Peter will be his al-bayith, protecting the house of God from all danger. In fact, the passage in Isaiah 22: 15-25 about the “key” entrusted to the al-bayith is taken up in the Gospel today. Upon Peter’s shoulder, Jesus places the keys to the kingdom, and declares that Peter has the power to bind and loose, that is, to make disciplinary rules within the Church. Peter is a person who was far from perfect. He is the easily-distracted Peter who sinks like a stone; he is the slow learner Peter who needs even the simplest stories explained to him (Matthew 15:15-16); he is the tactless and impulsive Peter who blabs on about building three booths after the Transfiguration experience (Matthew 17:4); he is the unfaithful Peter who denied Jesus three times (Matthew 26:69-74); he is the hesitant Peter who struggles with whether he loves Jesus in the right way (John 21:15-17). Peter had a very "rocky" personality but Jesus fully accepts that fact about him and makes him the foundation of the Church! He was far from perfect but was transformed by his Master’s love, forgiveness and patience. The Church is built out of a whole bunch of rocky lives. We've had more than our share of bad, unwise, and corrupt Catholic Christians over the centuries. I am as angry as anyone over scandals in the Church. But I chose to stay because Jesus never gave up on Peter. He never left his Church. He promised that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against his Church that he loves so much. Should you stop going to the gym because you see fat people? By presenting the example of Peter, Jesus tells us that he also desires to accomplish in us what he did in Peter. He hides his treasures in jars of clay. He chooses flawed people like you and me with a bad past, a shaky present, and an uncertain future, and will transform us into strong foundations on which his Church will remain alive and fruitful.
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum