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Homily for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Who do you say that Jesus is?

By Bishop Larry SIlva
August 27, 2017

Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
[St. Michael Church, Waialua; SS. Peter & Paul Mission, Waimea]

Who do you say that Jesus is?  Some say an ancient prophet.  And since there are many ancient prophets, some who genuinely spoke the word of God and some who were false prophets, those who see him only as an ancient prophet can decide for themselves what they want to believe about him and what they do not.

Some say Jesus is the loving servant who empties himself for us.  While this is true, if this is the only thing they think about Jesus, then he can easily be treated as a servant.  When we need him, we snap our fingers and expect him to respond.  But when we do not need him, he blends into the background like the furniture.

Some say Jesus is someone who lived long ago and far away and who left us a legacy of beautiful teachings.  There is truth to this, too, but unless we see him as God revealed him, as risen from the dead and still with us, then we can easily lock him away into irrelevance.

Some say Jesus is thoughtful, friendly, courteous and kind.  These, too, are truths about him, but this may cause us to ignore what we hear in the word of God, where Jesus confronts evil head on, when he tells his disciples that the road to salvation is narrow rather than wide, or when he becomes angry in condemnation of sin.  In this case we lock him up to tame him, to keep his power contained so that it will not overwhelm us or the world; or so that we can take him when we want and leave him when we choose.

Some say he is merciful beyond belief, and this is true as well.  But some then conclude that Jesus does not care if we sin or use one another.  He always looks the other way.  If that is the case, of course, then we lock away his saving power, because if we can just call upon his mercy without the slightest desire to repent, who really needs a savior in the first place?

Some say Jesus is good for me, but whether he is good for you is really up to you.  We can easily lock him up in our private devotion, and not let him out to truly influence our families, our parish, or our community.  We can treat him as our own private treasure, which we lock up in the church, but we do not allow him to go to our schools, our places of work, or our body politic.

Since the keys of the kingdom are entrusted to us, we can easily decide to lock Jesus away into convenient little boxes so that he will not challenge us to change ourselves or change the world.

Yet just as God dethroned Shebna as the master of the palace and entrusted the keys of the kingdom of David to Eliakim, so he can dethrone us when we use the power of our faith only for our own purposes and our own advancement, rather than for the good of all the world.

Peter professes who Jesus really is, and his faith is rewarded by giving him the power of the keys, to lock and unlock the mysteries of the kingdom of God.  We believe that this is the origin of the papacy, by which the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter, is made a rock upon which the whole Church can rest as a sure foundation.  It may be buffeted by storms or tossed about by its own problems, but in the end even the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.  But we are all members of that Church by virtue of our Baptism, and therefore we share in this power of the keys.  We can unlock the power of “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” or we can lock it up into little convenient boxes.

Jesus says to Peter that it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to him, but his heavenly Father.  And so if we are to come to know who Jesus really is and are to be able, as faithful stewards, to unlock the power of his love in our own lives, in our families, and in the world in which we live, then we must be attuned to the voice of our heavenly Father.  We listen to him in the Scriptures, not just hearing what we want to hear and discarding the rest, but unlocking all the mysteries God has revealed to us.  This means taking time each day to reflect upon the Word of God in the Scriptures and to meditate on how God wants them to become flesh ever anew in our own day and our own situations.  Jesus also tells us he is the living bread come down from heaven, and that only if we eat his flesh and drink his blood will we have life eternal.  But how many lock away this gift by simply not coming here to be in his presence – a presence that can change lives and change the world?

In next week’s Gospel we will see Peter, the rock, who knew how to pay attention to God’s voice, being reprimanded for thinking as human beings do, and not as God does, when Jesus spoke of his impending death on the cross.  Like Peter we can all get it wrong from time to time.  But if we keep coming back, letting the Lord unlock little by little his true identity, we will then want to go out, as Peter ultimately did, to unlock that love for all we meet, for the whole world.  That is the faithful service to which we are all called.