Thought for the week - 27 August 2023
Let us look at the beginning of the gospel for today because it seems as good a place as any to begin: Matthew shows Jesus journeying as usual, relentlessly and seeking out as many people as He can. Jesus doesn’t just sit in one place and wait for people to come and listen to his teaching: he himself is moving forward in obedience to his destiny; those who want to hear him must travel with him, and for us that means being willing to move, to be changed, to learn new things, to be asked and to answer difficult questions which change our lives.
These questions, such as the one Peter answered today, are never asked once, in the past. They are asked of us as well. A living God is a dynamic God and not a static God whose clearest communication happened in the past – as a friend of mine once said to a church who refused to engage with the world for the sake of a misunderstood concept of purity and unchangeability ‘what s God is not dead?’. Jesus, as Son of Man, means that God continues to speak and to act. God does not have to resurrect John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or any other prophet to speak and this is the meaning of part of the Gospel today. God never ceases to exist and to create and to anoint – even creating and anointing new Disciples among the very unlikely women and men He called. This is why people got and get the question ‘who do people say I am’ so very wrong.
Jesus says to Peter: “I say to you Peter (Petros) that on this rock (petra) I shall build my ekklesia (assembly or church) and the gates of Hades shall not overpower her”. The word petra translated as rock is grammatically feminine and it agrees with the Greek word ekklesia, which is also grammatically feminine. Thus, the noun petra does not refer to Peter. Maybe it’s worth saying that again – the noun petra does not refer to Peter. Perhaps Jesus is speaking of the locus, the specific place, where this confession of faith is uttered and means it to refer to all Humanity. As Christ was Second Adam, maybe the confession of Peter allows the creation of the assembly or church to happen from our first uttered human confession of faith. Whatever – it’s an assembly founded on Jesus and His identity as Son of God and on our human recognition of that. God is alive, he is a relevant God, a God to speaks I to our context today because He created it and created us and wills us to acknowledge Him. To live is to change, in faith to change from our smaller world into God’s bigger world. The fact that we are known as God’s people doesn’t mean that God isn’t interested in other people as we heard last week. His mission to the lost sheep of Israel did not prevent Him from ministering to others as well. God may possess us; we don’t possess God.
Jesus challenges us as He challenged Peter, and the challenge is a harder one because we claim to know Him already. We claim to know Him through the Scriptures, through the Church founded on Peter’s confession, through our practice as Christians - none of these aids were available to Peter! Peter was assured, because of the life he lived after this, of a place in the Kingdom. Jesus challenges his hearers today in this church not to imagine that just because they had had contact with God through the scriptures read at the Mass, or had their prayers answered, that we are assured of a place in Heaven. The answer to question ‘who do you say I am’ is found in our deeds – how have we desired a place in the Kingdom, at the heavenly banquet, like hungry people. Do we hunger and thirst for the Kingdom and more importantly, knowing whose Kingdom it is, do we work that others may get there before us? We who confess Christ as Peter did are just beginning our journey – as Peter was as well. A confession of faith is not sufficient, an example through our lives of what that faith looks like in action is what is called for when we arrive at the gates of heaven and Christ, who alone holds that key, sees us face to face.
We can gain admission to the heavenly banquet on one condition: if we are hungry to be there. Those who think they have a right to be there will get a shock; they have not tried their best to enter by the narrow door, which paradoxically welcomes countless unexpected guests through it; it is the door of humility, of need, of poverty in spirit. Those who have had a good, godly upbringing may think that that is all they require; think that somehow, they’re already in the club, and they needn’t bother to fill out the paperwork of love, faith, and good works. Jesus scandalised the well brought-up by showing that God welcomes the badly brought-up too; each has the same way into the heavenly feast: hunger.