The following reflections on Matthew’s Gospel 16:21 – 27 which we listen to on the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A are offered by Veronica Lawson RSM to enrich reflection and prayer at this time.
We all know people in leadership who take themselves a bit too seriously. Some confuse their role or title with their significance in the scheme of things. Some look for privilege and an easy life, forgetting that leadership of anything worthwhile involves hard work, misunderstanding, and invariably brings opposition. The first part of today’s gospel story presents Peter, who has just been declared the foundation rock of the church and given the “keys” of the kin-dom or empire of the heavens, refusing to accept that Jesus’ mission will involve suffering, even death. The reader is confronted in this story with the expansive rock face at Caesarea Philippi and invited to consider the friable properties of the seemingly indestructible rock. Even rocks can be reduced to sand or gravel and a humbler mode of being.
For all its seriousness, there is something quite comical about this story. Peter actually censures or reprimands Jesus. Jesus then sets him straight in no uncertain terms. The “rock” becomes the leader of the opposition, a serious obstacle to God’s purposes, a stumbling block. He is ordered back to the place where disciples properly belong, namely “behind” Jesus, “following” him. Matthew provides a striking contrast in this section of the gospel between Peter who “rebukes” Jesus and Justina, the Canaanite woman, who respectfully and persistently implored Jesus to see from a new perspective. Peter receives a decisive rebuttal, while the woman’s plea is heard and she is praised for her great faith.
Peter’s impetuous outburst provides the trigger for Jesus to invite his disciples to think about what they really want. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is the teacher and the disciples are the students who have accepted the invitation to follow him. That means living out in their lives the pattern of his life. If they really want to be his followers, then they have to embrace the pain involved in his relentless program of teaching and of healing the sick and brokenhearted. They will also share the “glory”. If they choose to put their own interests first, then they will surely lose themselves. It is ultimately a question of choosing life. Peter forgets this for a while and has to be reminded to be true to what he has previously professed. He is not very different from the rest of us. We too need to rethink our choices and to reorder our priorities from time to time if we want to find life.
September 1 is the World Day of Prayer for Creation, and our church, along with many churches, is celebrating September 1 to October 4 (Feast of St Francis of Assisi) as a Season of Creation. At a time when life on our planet is seriously endangered, we might attend more closely to the urgent gospel challenge of living in ways that help to sustain the life of the whole Earth community. We bring into our celebration those most affected by Covid-19 and we pray for the insight to live in right relationship with all that is.