8-27-2017 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Aug 28, 2017
21st Sunday in OT / A / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
Today’s Gospel marks a turning point in the Gospel of Matthew—the confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi. Up to this point, Jesus has been teaching the disciples about the Kingdom. He has also given indication of who he is—in his words, in his actions, in his miracles. But now is the moment of truth. In Gentile country, away from the crowds, Jesus puts this question before his disciples: "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" It is a general question, and the disciples give a general response. The common denominator is that Jesus is a prophet, a teacher, a man powerful in word and deed, speaking God’s truth.
But then Jesus asks a more personal question: "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answers for the group, and he responds correctly: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Why is this statement so important, both for Peter and for us? Because if Jesus is just another prophet or teacher, what difference does it make? But if Jesus is the divine Son of God, it makes all the difference in the world. If Jesus is God, we owe our lives to him.
And Peter understands this. He gets the "all or nothing" quality of Jesus. As Jesus himself says, you are "either with me or against me." There is nothing in between. Peter is the first to understand this and to proclaim it. In recognition, Jesus gives Peter a new name, "Rock," and upon this solid rock of faith, Jesus will build his Church.
The Greek word that Matthew uses for church is ekklesia. It is actually two Greek words: ek (meaning "out of") and kaleo (meaning "to call"). Called/out. The Church is made up of those who are "called out." Those who proclaim Jesus as Lord are "called out" of something—and into something new. We have left something behind; and we move into something new.
The early church beautifully represented this change of life in the Rite of Baptism. When an adult was baptized, they would strip off their street clothes as they entered the baptistry (a separate building). Dropping their clothes—the "old life" was put behind. They entered the pool of Baptism; they were anointed with an aromatic oil; and when they emerged from the water, they put on a white garment, symbolizing their new life in Jesus Christ.
So what are we "called out" of? Scripture says it’s "the world," but this is not the "created world" all around us—which is beautiful and good.
The "world" refers to a specific way of life—a way of life that is contrary to God and the values of the Kingdom. The "world" means a life of selfishness, pride, lust, indifference, violence, racism, evil. It is the "earthly city," in the words of St. Augustine.
Instead, we are baptized into the City of God—a new community, a new life, a new city characterized by love, compassion, forgiveness, and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Jesus says that the "gates of the netherworld shall not prevail" against this city. I used to understand this phrase to mean that evil will never break into the City of God. Instead, the meaning is just the opposite. The Church militant will break down the gates of the nether world, infusing this place of darkness and dysfunction with love, compassion, and hope. Christians in the world: the "salt of the earth," the "light of the world," permeating all of creation with the truth of the Gospel.
"Who do you say that I am? . . . You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." May we be salt and light to the world.