Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020 at St John XXIII Parish, Glenwood-Stanhope Gardens
Readings: Isaiah 22:19-23; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20
Professing and following the Servant Messiah
Brothers and sisters in Christ,
Living in the shadow of the pandemic, we learn to adjust to the different protocols and requirements in the interest of public health. Australia, like other advanced countries, has introduced many measures to help us cope with the impact of this crisis. As followers of Jesus, we also stand in solidarity with those who are at greater risk. We are mindful not only of the elderly and the sick but also many who are excluded from those government measures. Inspired by the Gospel, we reach out to the forgotten and vulnerable such as asylum seekers, migrant workers, overseas students without access to any safety net. We endeavour to build a community of hospitality, compassion, and neighbourliness that is the heart of the Good News.
Scriptures for this 21st Sunday exhort us to make the care for the vulnerable and the ethics of God’s Kingdom the foundation or the bedrock of our Christian lives.
The first reading was written in the context of the gradual disintegration of Israel before the exile. This period was marked by political opportunism. It’s kind of a “grab what you can” mentality. This was what Shebna, the king’s treasurer was doing. Isaiah denounces Shebna’s machinations and failure to care for the people. In his place, Eliakim was chosen to be “the father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the House of Judah”. This prophecy is messianic in that Eliakim was a figure of the ideal ruler who would bring God’s true justice, love, and compassion to the people.
The Gospel follows the theme of the first reading. It is set in Caesarea Philippi, the name that suggests the omnipresence and power of the Roman Emperor who claimed to be God’s Son and God’s Anointed. Caesar’s claim, however, was idolatrous as contrary to God’s purpose, he ruled with violence and domination.
The dialogue at Caesarea Philippi exposed the illegitimacy of Caesar’s claim. It was Jesus, rather than Caesar, who was the Messiah and God’s Son. Peter’s response “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” in effect meant a rejection of Caesar. But more importantly, for Jesus, believing in Him meant also a rejection of the imperial mindset and an acceptance of the Kingdom and its ethics of justice, love and compassion.
Peter is praised for recognising the Messiah. He is called the rock. However, the rock can be either the cornerstone or the stumbling block. So long as Peter lives out the call to emulate the Suffering Servant and to live a servant leadership, he is the rock of strength. But if he refuses to be part of Christ’s suffering and reverts to the imperial model of behaviour, he becomes the rock of offense. Indeed, Peter is soon rebuked and called a stumbling block precisely because he wants to remove the cross from the mission of the Christ and Christian discipleship.
Peter has a steep learning curve on his way to be the foundation stone for the Christian community. Like Paul falling from his high horse, Peter also has his pride and ambition checked. He learns to be led to places he’d rather not go. This is not simply geography but above all a metaphor for vulnerable trust which is an essential quality for Christian living and witness.
The Word of God requires us not only to profess the Christ, but also to embed His Kingdom values into our lives and society. We cannot live our faith to the full without embracing the challenge of the contrast society that our Jewish forebears attested to and the Kingdom vision that Jesus proclaimed by his words and deeds.
The early Christians understood the significance of being fundamentally counter-cultural in how they lived, how they related, how they shared resources and how they showed the characteristics of an alternative society. Their commitment to the Kingdom vision of Jesus inspires us as we endeavour to influence our society for the common good and to act as the critical yeast for the critical time.
As followers of Jesus, we too need to demonstrate our being counter-cultural, not by adopting a fortress and fearful attitude, but by showing a kinder, more inclusive, more caring alternative society under God’s rule. We must have the courage to be a community of hospitality, compassion, and neighbourliness that serves as an alternative to the kingdom of Caesar.
Let us pray even as we enact liturgically the Kingdom vision of Jesus in our Sunday Eucharist that we may be able to live up to that calling. Grounded by the rich knowledge and wisdom of God, may we bear witness to Christ and His vision of the world under God’s reign.