August 22, 2014

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe first section of the Book of Isaiah provides this weekend with its first reading.

The author of this section of Isaiah lived when the southern Hebrew kingdom, or the kingdom of Judah, still existed. Only later was this kingdom and the other Hebrew kingdom, the kingdom of Israel, overwhelmed by outside invaders.

As has been and is so often the case of national rulers, the king of Judah governed the country with the assistance of aides and subordinates. The principal assistant wore a distinctive badge to indicate to any and all that he acted in the king’s behalf. This distinctive badge was a key.

In this reading, God, speaking through the prophet, stated that a chief minister would be selected to serve the king and to carry out the royal will. This official would wear the key.

An important point in this reading is that God intervenes in human lives, and uses human agents to accomplish the divine will and to communicate his words to people.

The prophet, the king and the chief minister all were commissioned by God to bring him to the people, and the people to him.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans again is the source of the Church’s second reading. Romans has been read for the past several weekends.

It is a great testimony to the majesty of God. As such, it is a great profession of Paul’s own faith. In it, he refers to various Old Testament passages in asking who has been God’s counselor in order to emphasize the ultimate transcendence of God’s judgments and ways. Nonetheless, Paul elsewhere affirms that God allows humans to communicate with him to be counselled by him.

For its third reading this weekend, the Church offers us a passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel. It is an especially descriptive and enlightening reading.

The occasion occurs at Caesarea Philippi, a place northeast of Capernaum. At the time of Jesus, this place was a resort. The River Jordan forms here from springs, and small creeks flow from it. Still picturesque, it is a modern, popular place for relaxation and for delighting in nature.

Central to the reading is St. Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus. The Lord asked the Apostles, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Mt 16:13). Jesus identified with the “Son of Man” of the Old Testament, who was God’s special agent.

The Apostles replied that the people were confused. Some saw Jesus as a prophet, such as John the Baptist, or even Elijah.

Jesus pressed the question, and Peter declared that Jesus was the “Son of the living God,” a profound proclamation of the Lord’s own divinity (Mt 16:16). Peter had faith, and faith gave him insight and wisdom.

Reflection

Before accepting Christianity, two steps are necessary. The first is to realize that God exists. The second is to believe that God communicates with people, and people may communicate with God. Neither is easy in our culture.

God is not boisterous. He does not shout his divine revelation at us. He does not thunder divine decrees. Indeed, humans cannot comprehend the divine message unless they have faith. Otherwise, it is puzzling or even nonsense.

These readings build upon the basic thought that God exists, a Supreme, eternal Being, great and unique in power, wisdom and mercy. Such was the testimony of St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans read this weekend.

The readings from Isaiah and Matthew clearly indicate that God speaks through human instruments, such as Isaiah, the king and his servant.

What about Peter? His great faith gave him extraordinary wisdom. In his faith, he saw genuine reality. Jesus is God. What does our faith allow us to see? Are we confused? Or are we secure in our knowledge of God? †

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