1. Isaiah 22, 15 and 19-23
a remote kingdom three millennia ago, a prophet spoke an oracle from God that brought down Shebna, master of the palace,
the number two person in the kingdom, and replaced him with Eliakim son of Hilkiah. The
passage is to the point and that makes it gripping. But how do I bring my listeners to listen more deeply
with their inner ear?
- We all know that today mullahs, rabbis and bishops speak out about the fitness
of secular rulers, and their followers pay close attention. Back then, however, it was a non-ordained prophet
who claimed a revelation from God that Shebna had failed to carry out his mandate to serve the people, to be a father
to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. As an example from the Catholic hierarchy, I might compare it
with the case of Cardinal Law rather than with that of Australian bishop Morris because this denunciation did not pass through
official channels but from the rank and file.
- But how does Isaiah know that it is God’s will that Shebna
must be thrust down from his office and pulled down from his station? This is strong language.
If I said such a thing, even jokingly, about my own government, I would be accused of treason. Perhaps
a man or woman of God can make such a statement with impunity. But even they must suffer the consequences
of their brashness. Isaiah would be vilified by his adversaries. I can begin to see
the parallels between Isaiah’s denunciation and the confession of Simon Peter in today’s Gospel. Why
do I think Jesus enjoined his disciples not to tell others that he was the Messiah? Was it because Jesus
was a shy person?
- Climax: God will invest Eliakim with certain signs of authority, especially with the
key of the house of David. Clearly the reading was chosen because a key is also mentioned in today’s
- Message for our assembly: Many of them have lived in Latin America where the presidential sash is a
common sign of executive power. Clothe him with your robe and gird him with your sash
talks boldly about contemporary events, though it does not help us sort out the different goals of church and state.
On this matter I yield to the homilist.
- I will challenge myself: To lend an ancient character to the text, drawing my
listeners in with the exotic names and places already familiar to my imagination, and highlighting the symbols of authority
that are still used in our time.
2. Romans 11, 33-36
- The apostle
lifts his hands and voice in praise of the wisdom and knowledge of God. Some
greater good is going to emerge out of the disappointing history of his mission to his fellow Jews. He
celebrates a hidden master plan of God. To us two thousand years later, the estrangement between Christians
and Jews seems permanent and impossible to bridge, but we believe that there is a purpose beyond our understanding.
How inscrutable are his judgments!
- I hear three sections in the passage. First
the amazement, the Oh that is a kind of realization that something more wonderful than what I can imagine
is taking place. How unsearchable his ways! God’s ways are not
the recourse to scripture, in which others have expressed the same wonder. Who has known the mind
of the Lord?
- Finally comes a renewed act of faith in the God of all creation. To
him be glory forever!
- Climax: From him and through him and for him declares the cycle of God’s
grace that embraces all things. We believe firmly that nothing of God’s creation
is lost. I will let it ring in the congregation today. As the lyric says in my hymn
based on Romans: Everything that comes from you returns to you again.
- The message for our assembly: We have all felt at some time that
some greater hand is coordinating all our disjointed efforts. The apostle tells us that our intuition is
correct. Let us give God the glory.
- I will challenge myself: To repeat in my voice the amazement the apostle feels
as he realizes that his efforts will bear fruit in God’s good time.
Gospel. Matthew 16, 13-20
again Jesus and his disciples have journeyed to a remote place north of Judea and Galilee, Caesarea Philippi,
where Jesus can talk openly about potentially risky things. Everyone mentioned by the disciples
– John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah – were
subjected to persecution and in John’s case murder. These prophets are not dead and forgotten; the
mere mention of their names still threatens the status quo. We have many modern parallels.
In Iran it may be a dangerous thing to say the name of the patriot Mohammed Mossadegh in public.
- Who do people say that the Son
of Man is? Who do you say that I am? I will pause after each question to let
the congregation answer for themselves. Do they think about these things? Do they know
the consequences of their answers? If we follow Jesus these are capital questions.
- Only Simon Peter
answers him. The others are keenly aware of the meaning of all this. They might be on
their guard against informers in their midst. Is that such an outlandish idea? It happened
to Jesus. It happens so often today! So Peter steps up and speaks for them, from his
heart, with all his abandon, his courage and his loyalty. You are the Christ, the Son of the living
God. Note: it is the same declaration Matthew uses at the trial of Jesus before the council.
- And now I hear Jesus choosing
(or the disciples presenting) this bold courageous man as the rock on which I will build my church.
So it is Peter’s courage that we and our church’s leaders are to imitate.
- The reading is not about Jesus’ giving
Simon his new name in grand isolation. It is about Jesus’ confirming his gifts of leadership and
the disciples’ rallying around him, against all threats to their union.
- Climax: The words of Peter’s confession.
- Message for our assembly:
Our church is not like earthly empires, because it is indestructible. The gates of the netherworld
shall not prevail against it. And its leadership speaks with the voice of God, holding the
keys to the kingdom of heaven. With this privilege comes a great responsibility: to confess Jesus
- I will challenge myself: To evoke the undertones of political risk in my reading
as I declare the names of the prophets and repeat Peter’s confession today.
Word to Eucharist: Look around in the procession. Don't we look like the diverse
band of disciples Jesus chose? Would we have the same admiration for Jesus as Peter showed?