21ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON AUGUST 23, 2020 (R. 1: Isaiah 22: 19- 23; Psalm 138: 1-2, 2-3, 6, 8; R. 2: Romans 11: 33- 36; Gospel: Matthew 16: 13- 20)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
THUMBS UP! THUMBS DOWN! WATCH IT!
The Bishop decided to visit one of the parishes in his diocese one Saturday morning. Later in the evening of that day, he joined the Pastor for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As usual, the parishioners lined up for confession, and a five-year old boy who had never been to confession also joined the queue. When it got to his turn, the little boy went in and sat down facing the Bishop. He began to swing his legs while staring at the Bishop and saying nothing. Then the Bishop said to him, “My little friend, this is the confessional.” The little boy responded sharply, “Yes, I know!” They both became quiet again and the little boy continued to swing his legs while staring at the Bishop. It got to a point when the Bishop was no longer comfortable with how the boy was silently staring at him, so he said to the boy in a gentle voice, “My little friend, you see, in the confessional, what we are expected to do is to say the sins we have committed.” The boy smiled and said, “Hmmm, that’s cool, you say your own first, then I will say my own.”
My dearly beloved in Christ, today’s Gospel passage is a very interesting one for us especially as Catholics. But I will not talk about the apologetic aspects of today’s Gospel passage. My focus for today will not be on how Jesus Christ is the direct founder of our dear Church. I will not talk about how Jesus appointed Peter the first pope. I will not dwell on how the Church has been empowered through her ministers to forgive sins and on how the Church has been empowered to define dogmas. I will not bore you with those because you already know them. My focus today is to reflect briefly on two things that Jesus said in the Gospel passage: (1) “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?…who do you say I am?” (2) “…flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”
In the first place, Jesus asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?…who do you say I am?” This is a little bit more than half way through the Gospel according to Matthew, and more than half way into the public ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus at this time turns around to take the pulse of his followers. He had taught them a lot. But he stops at this point to see how much of him they have understood from his teachings and his miracles. He asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They gave various wrong answers, so he decided to zoom in on his immediate followers, and he asked, “Who do you say I am?” Jesus here is like a good teacher, who after teaching the students, comes back to check how much they understood. When the teacher gives a test and grades the students, he/she is also grading himself/herself. The outcome of the test is also a reflection of the teaching ability of the teacher. Sometimes, Christians make such comments as “A clear conscience fears no accusation” or “I am only responsible for what I say and not what you understand from what I say.” As Christians, we must move beyond clear conscience to clear actions. Paul said he had no issues with eating food sacrificed to idols, however, if that would scandalize the weak, he would avoid it (I Corinthians 8:1-13). Jesus had taught his followers very well, yet he was humble enough to ask if they understood him from his teaching.
Secondly, Jesus did not hide his excitement when at least one of them got the answer right; he told the one who got it right, “…flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” Peter got it right, and he got the thumbs up from Jesus. Regarding what is happening here, John Shea explains that “…getting it right is not an ego accomplishment of which we can be proud…Rather it means we have momentarily allowed the Spirit to have influence.” That is why when Peter got it right, after congratulating him, Jesus was quick to call his attention to the true source of his “getting it right.” It is not enough to get it right, it is important to know the source of your getting it right, and to remain connected to that source. But it seems Peter was carried away, he got disconnected from the source of his getting it right, and so next Sunday, we will see Peter receiving a different reaction from Jesus. It seems “getting it right” became the foundation for his “getting it wrong.” Disconnected from the source of his success, he would speak on his own accord next Sunday, and he will be told “Get behind me, Satan!” Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”
In human history, there are so many examples of men, women, nations and civilizations that rose to greatness, but fell woefully because after rising to greatness, they disconnected themselves from the source of their greatness. When we go to confession, it is the grace of God that takes us there. We fall back easily to sin when we become proud of ourselves and begin to think we are better than others. When I began my journey to the priesthood in the seminary, I recall my friends who came saying, “Emmanuel, you must be very self-confident to be embracing the priesthood.” But each time I heard that, I always told them, “I am not self-confident, but God-confident.”
Shortly before my priestly ordination, a classmate of mine from high school came up to me and said, “Emmanuel, have you thought very well about this bold step you are taking? It looks like a difficult life to me. You mean you will remain like this for the rest of your life? I suggest you give it a second thought.” I smiled and I changed the conversation. Two years after my priestly ordination, he came up to me with his wedding invitation, and I said, “Joe [not his real name], congratulations! But, have you thought very well about this bold step you are taking? It looks like a difficult life to me. You mean you will remain with this same woman for the rest of your life? Does that not sound boring? What if you find a better woman tomorrow?” At that point, he realized I was playing a return match. The point here is that, being a priest, being married or being single is no easy job. Anyone who does any of them well, does it only by the grace of God.
So, if you are getting it right today as a priest, a married man/woman, a single man/lady, let it not get into your head, do not laugh at those who you think are getting it wrong today for you might be told tomorrow, “Get behind me, Satan!” To keep getting it right, we must remain connected to God and support one another. Remember that there is nothing that we have that we have not been given. The only thing we can boast of that we have not been given are the sins we commit.