24 Aug 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Dear OLPH Family and Friends,
Just before this week’s Gospel passage, Jesus warns His disciples against the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” He, in fact, called those two groups a bunch of hypocrites. Now they find themselves in gentile and imperial territory. Caesarea Philippi was at the crossroads of pagan and Roman culture. Among the gods celebrated there was Pan. It is in this atmosphere that Jesus asks the disciples “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” As we heard in the reading, “some say John the Baptist.” Then they suggested the possibility of one or the other of their favorite Prophets. Isn’t it interesting that they only mentioned those who had died. Only when Jesus personalized the question, “who do you say that I am” that Peter proclaimed “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is not Christ as an anointed one but THE CHRIST. It isn’t you are a son of God but THE SON OF GOD. Jesus praised Peter for that proclamation and acknowledged that Peter knew Him only by the grace of God.
Jesus chose Peter to lead the other apostles for two reasons. First, His Father chose Peter at Caesarea Philippi by revealing to him what flesh could never know, that Jesus was the Christ, God’s Messiah. Peter was the only one who knew the answer to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” Second, Jesus understands that Peter can only preach God’s reconciling love if he first experienced it himself. It is because Peter would fail so completely and would weep so bitterly over his denial of Jesus that, when he is finally reconciled with Jesus at the Sea of Tiberius, he would truly understand God’s message of mercy.
It may seem ironic that today’s Gospel passage is often used to assert the superiority of the Catholic Church over other Christian denominations. Based on this text, the primacy of the popes and apostolic succession are emphasized as proof for the authority of the Catholic teaching. Yet, we see that Peter has primacy because he is first in failure, first in suffering, first in his need for God’s mercy in order to serve the church.
Pope Francis began his service as pope by acknowledging that he was a sinner and that God had first shown him mercy. This is the call that is given to each of us: “Be merciful, for God has shown you mercy.” Perhaps the greatest obstacle to showing mercy is that so many Christians feel they have never needed it. The Jubilee Year of Mercy may be over but the call to be merciful will always remain.
May God bless, preserve, and keep us mindful of His never-ending mercy!