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Why Peter?

Homily for the 21st Sunday, Year A, in Ordinary Time

About six years ago, I had the privilege of standing at Caesarea. Philippi. It is not a great place. There is no big church built there. My memory of the place is that it was desolate and removed from any greatness.

As I turned around to go back to the group, I did not see that there was a step. I fell heavily and injured my knee. So, it is a place that I can never forget. From that time, I had to be helped around on a wheel chair. Even when we arrived at the airport of the final journey home, I was wheeled around at the airport on a chair. That was a highlight. The airport was so enormous that I was happy to be wheeled around.

For us Catholics, this is a very important place. Here Peter was named. We need to understand the whole picture.

Jesus had been teaching the crowds. Now at this point of Matthew’s gospel, the movement was away from his teaching. Now Jesus was revealing his own identity and the identity of the church that he was establishing.

He began with a question: Who do people say I am? The disciples gave their answers from what they had heard people say. Some say you are John the Baptist; some say you are an Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

Then Jesus turned the question on them. But who do you say I am? Jesus already knew what the people thought. However, his interest was more in who his disciples thought he was. We all have to face this question in our own lives. So, we need to be able to ask ourselves that very question: Who do you say I am? It is not a fictional question.

Peter spoke up for us all. You are the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of God. Jesus then gave Peter his new identity: You are Peter – the Rock – on whom I will build my church.

We all have to recognize this identity of Jesus in our lives. Peter could only have said this because it was revealed to him by God.

The choice of Peter as the one on which he was to build his church was not an obvious one. Peter was impetuous and passionate. Yet Jesus had so much faith in his weak humanity that he saw Peter as the Rock on which he was to build his church. He was full of human frailty. Jesus wanted to build his church on the weak and simple, on the man who lost faith when he stepped out onto the water. And later when he was asked about his discipleship: Are you not one of his disciples? Peter denied any knowledge of Jesus. He repeated this denial three times.

After Jesus had risen from the dead, he asked Peter publicly: Simon Peter, do you love me? The question was repeated three times. His love was the foundation stone on which Jesus could build a new kind of church.

For sure, our church is built on the rock of Peter’s humanity. God trusts our human weakness. But more than that he trusts our response of love.

Noel Mansfield, MSC


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