Homily for the 22nd Sunday of the Year

Homily: 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A. 2023

“You are Rock”, we heard last week; you are a “stumbling block” we hear this week. To find out what happened, and to make sure we don’t make the same mistake as Peter, we need to revisit what we read in the Scripture last week.

It all happened at the northern most point of what used to be David’s kingdom. This is the area known today as the Golan Heights, a disputed territory between Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. At the time of Our Lord, this area was beyond Samaria, in Galilee, in Caesarea Philippi. In fact, we know the exact location this discussion took place. Today it is called Banias, but at the time of Our Lord it was called Paneas, after the Greek god Pan.

Pan was thought to be the god of nature, and this place was, and still is, so beautiful that it was believed to be the birthplace of Pan. Crystal-clear waters flow from the rock creating a waterfall. These waters form a river that sustains a small forest of equal beauty. At the base of the rock, where the waters fall, the Greeks built a temple to honor Pan. Today, little remains of the Temple, but at the time of Our Lord, when this exchange we heard read, took place, the temple was a sign of idolatry. And the location, the edge of David’s kingdom, a sad reminder of Israel’s former glory now under Roman occupation.

It is to this place steeped with so much symbolism that Our Lord purposefully took his apostles and said to them, “Who do you say that I am?” Speaking on behalf of the apostles Simon said, “You are the Christ”. In Aramaic he would have said, “you are the messiah.” To call Jesus the messiah means, “you are the anointed one, the son of David, and heir to his kingdom, now in ruins, where we stand at its northern border.” This language is of hope and restoration.

Simon also said, “you are the son of the living God”. In the context of a Pagan temple Simon is saying: you are the living waters you preached about; the water you invited the Samaritan woman to ask for when we were on our way here; the water Ezekiel saw in his vision, flowing from Temple, giving life to Israel.

No wonder Jesus said, you are the Rock on which I will build my church, from which these living waters will give life. In Aramaic, Jesus said “Cephas”. In Greek, it is “Petro” from which we receive Simon’s new name as Peter.

But today Simon, you are a stumbling block.

There are so many aspects of this exchange worth exploring. Let us limit ourselves on this occasion to asking: “what did Simon do to produce such different responses from Our Lord”?

When Our Lord affirmed Simon, he also affirmed his thinking, saying, “it is not flesh and blood that revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven”. In other words, the profession of faith made by Simon was not the result of his reading and studies, but by the inspiration from God.

And when Our Lord rebuked Simon, he again rebuked his thinking saying, “The way you think is not God’s way but man’s”. This was in response to Simon’s opposition to Jesus teaching that his journey to Jerusalem was not to restore the territory of David and level the Pagan temples, but that in Jerusalem he would “suffer many things…and be killed”. It is easy to sympathize with Simon’s opposition to this plan. But Jesus would have nothing to do with Simon’s way of thinking, “Get behind me Satan,” he said.

We are witnessing two ways of thinking, one pleasing to God and the other not. One is inspired by God, the other sees only as men do, from our own perspective. Thinking under the inspiration of God isn’t about being smart or having the right answers. It seems to be about discerning God’s will and trusting him.

 St Peter got the first part right when he professed faith in Jesus, but he got the second part wrong when he didn’t trust God’s plan. He would later put this right when in Rome he trusted God enough to carry his own cross on which he was crucified for professing Jesus’ divinity. In our lives, we want to get both right: to discern God’s voice and to trust his plan for our lives.

This is what St Paul was speaking about to the Romans in the second reading today where he wrote, “I beg you, worship him in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your bodies as a holy sacrifice pleasing to God.” Here at Holy Mass, we do this: worship God as thinking beings, inspired by God, and offer lives with Jesus to God the Father. Only we are not at Banias, nor are we at Jerusalem. Instead, as the author of the letter to the Hebrews puts it, we are at the heavenly Jerusalem, participating in Jesus’ death and his resurrection.

Here, Jesus does more than what Simon Peter could have imagined. Jesus reaches into the broken borders of our personal history, and levels the false idols within our heart, so that he might restore us to God’s Kingdom. On our part, we are invited to worship, as thinking beings, offering our bodies with his, to God our Father.