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Ordinary Time 21 (A)
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Readings for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1. Isaiah 22, 15 and 19-23
  • In 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 Gospel.
  • 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 ours.
  • Then 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

  • Once 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 openly.
  • 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? 

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