OT 21st Sunday August 24, 2014
Isaiah 22:19-23 Ps 138 Rom 11:33-36 Mt 16:13-20
St. Paul caught a glimpse of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. Later on in his letters Paul wrote about the extraordinary revelations and inspirations he received during his ministry. He caught a glimpse. And it was so amazing to him that his next line in the 2nd reading was this: “How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!”
All of which piques our curiosity. How many of us are merely content to hear that teaser without asking for someone to tell us more. We human beings are so very curious. God knows that. He made us this way. So, for a moment, let’s ask God to help us out. Reveal to us some of what St. Paul saw. Let’s search out the unsearchable. Let’s unscrew the inscrutable. Let’s solve the mystery. Remember that in another section in the gospel Jesus praised the Father for revealing these mysteries to the humble and the childlike, while keeping the wise and the learned in the dark.
So let’s look at the gospel for our first clue. Jesus took his disciples to the region of Caesarea Philippi to ask them a question. He is always amazing about these kinds of divine set-ups. Caesarea Philippi was an ancient city that was built atop a very impressive rock hill. One face of it is a rock cliff. It is massive and fortress-like. The other location of an impressive rock hill is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Location, location, location! In the shadow of Caesarea Philippi and this massive stone hill Jesus asked his big question. “Who do you say that I am?”
This was and is an important question. After a discussion about all of the talk among the crowds about who Jesus might be, he asked them that very direct question. It was St. Peter who first blurted out the answer. He said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus praised Peter’s answer with these curious words. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” In other words, it was not mere human reason and insight that led Peter to this conclusion. Rather, it was a special grace, a revelation from God that was granted to him. Peter spoke in a divinely inspired way. Which leads us to a conclusion as well.
God can lead us to places and situations that will speak truth to us. God will pose questions to us that prompt us to be open to inspiration, and to speak divine truth.
What Jesus said to Peter next was really astounding. He made these incredible promises to Peter.
- Jesus changed his name from Simon to Peter. In aramaic the word was Kephas. Rock. There in the shadow of the impressive rock of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus pronounced Simon as Kephas or Rock or Peter, upon which he would build his Church. And so he did.
- Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. And so for 2000 years the Church has stood and withstood so many assaults of the enemy. Both from without and from within.
- Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom to Peter. This refers to a position of authority, foreshadowed in the Davidic Kingdom. We heard about this in the 1st reading with the prophecy about Eliakim, who would become the prime minister of the Davidic kingdom. Peter was named prime minister, or what we now call the Petrine Office, the Vicar of Christ. Peter and all of his successors have, in this office, held the keys - that is to say, the teaching authority of the church, the deposit of faith. God revealed all that we need to know about salvation through this deposit of faith. All of it is held together through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Teaching of the Church.
- Jesus gave authority to Peter to bind and to loose. This is an amazing authority given to the church. We see this authority exercised most frequently in the ministry of the sacraments. Forgiveness of sins, healing, restoration, are miracles of binding and loosing that we witness all the time in the church, to the point that sometimes it seems rather ordinary.
These are amazing and incredible revelations that Jesus gave to Peter. Jesus chose the setting well, he selected just the right question, and the key to the whole things was Peter’s willingness to declare his faith, which in that moment was the right answer inspired by God himself.
And what does this have to do with me and with you? Everything of course. Because you and I want to have some glimpse of the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! This gospel passage teaches us a couple of really important things about how we can come to this same divine knowledge and understanding.
- God really wants to reveal his riches and wisdom and knowledge to us. Just as Jesus led Peter to a place to help him understand, and asked a question that opened the door, so he also leads us to a place where we can understand.
- The place Jesus shows us today is the Church. St. Peter himself is a rock that is far greater than Caesarea Philippi. That city crumbled into dust long ago. But the Church is still the city shining on a hill. It is still a light. It is still that community of believers against whom the gates of hell cannot prevail, no matter how much hell rages. And the Church is the place where Jesus leads us to show us the truth.
- God the Father will himself give us revelation. Just as these truths were revealed to Peter, so the Lord wants to bring you and me more deeply into the truth. And Jesus has already given us his Holy Spirit, who reveals to us all truth.
So here is the mystery, the puzzle, and the challenge for us. It is not impossible, for nothing is impossible with God. We can know the mysteries of God. It is so simple, in fact. St. Peter gives us the first step - faith in who Jesus is for us. This faith in Jesus leads us to every next right step.
The second step is the promise that Jesus gave us to send his Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit always comes with gifts. In this case the gifts are 7 - knowledge, understanding, wisdom, council, courage, piety, and wonder & awe. Jesus tells us over and over to ask for the Holy Spirit. All of these things come to us through the life of the Holy Spirit.
And the third step is what St. Paul shows us in Romans. It is so simple. It is praise. When we open our hearts and our lives to praise and worship God, then we are so much more open to receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And God opens our minds to the truth - to the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. And we are moved to say along with St. Paul - “For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen!”