Saturday, August 23, 2008

You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God

(21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, A)

The Gospel we hear today has always been very important to us Catholics, for it contains the scriptural origin of the Petrine ministry: the ministry of St. Peter of teaching and unity for all the churches, which we believe has continued through the years in the bishops of Rome down to our Holy Father Benedict XVI. In this famous exchange, Peter makes his great confession of faith, proclaiming his belief that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

In response to his confession of faith, Jesus gives this Simon, son of Jonah, a new name: Petros in Matthew’s Greek, a play on the word for rock, petra. Jesus then proclaims that Peter will be the Rock on which the Church will be built. But in what does this foundation consist? In other words, what is the “rockiness” of this man on which this church will be founded? It sure isn’t Peter’s leadership qualities or understanding; in the very next passage of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus calls Peter a skandalon, a “stumbling block” or hindrance, because he does not understand the prediction of the Passion. And we all we know the shame of Peter’s denial, the night before Jesus’ suffering and death, that he even knew Jesus.

No, Peter does not become the Rock on which the Church is built because he is a great leader or theologian, but because of his confession of faith. It is the confession that this Jesus of Nazareth is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” that is the Rock, the foundation of the Church.

But what does it mean for us, we who have inherited the apostolic faith that has been passed down to us? We confess that this man, this one human life, this Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew of the first century, is the Christ. By Christ we mean the anointed of God, elected by God to be priest like Melchizedek, prophet like Elijah, and king like his father David. In addition to all that, we confess that Jesus is the Son of the living God. Our faith and belief is that the Eternal Word or Wisdom of God, which is such a perfect reflection and self-expression of God that it is also God, became this human life, this Jesus of Nazareth.

Thus, we believe that Jesus is the perfect Revealer of God. In the preaching, teaching, and interactions of Jesus with people, we see, on our terms, the nature and the personality of the otherwise unknowable Source from which all existence comes, that Mystery that we perceive obscurely somehow behind and beneath everything that is. In his patient suffering, humble death, and glorious Resurrection we see the Eternity towards which we are all traveling as we make our way through this life.

This is the basic “good news” of Christianity; that this obscure reality we call “God,” this Mystery of existence that we only kind of perceive through or experiences of wonder or love, has been perfectly revealed. Even better, God has been revealed on our terms, in a way that is perfectly available to our human understanding. This is what it means to say that God became man, and that Jesus is the Son of the living God.

This is our confession of faith. And it is God’s desire to continue building his church on the solid rock of this confession in each Christian life. God will do this! In Christ, God is saving, reconciling, and sanctifying the world. If we allow this faith to be the foundation of our lives, God will make us part of the work. In our families, and workplaces and communities, we will truly be Christians, “other christs” through whom God is reconciling and sanctifying the world.

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