Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
The 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 northern 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 special uniform to indicate to all that he acted on the king’s behalf. This distinctive clothing verified his authority.
In this reading, God, speaking through the prophet, stated that a chief minister should be selected to serve the king and to carry out the royal will. This official would wear the uniform of his high office.
Basic in this reading is that God very much intervenes in human lives and uses human agents to accomplish the divine will and to communicate God’s words to people.
The prophet, the king and the chief minister all were human agents ultimately commissioned to bring God to the people, and the people to God.
St. Paul’s letter 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, an eloquent profession of Paul’s own faith.
God needs no counselor or informer, but unlike the Roman deities, God is not aloof, conniving and at times vengeful. He knows us. He hears us, willingly, mercifully and with love. We can communicate with God with assurance of being heard, our needs understood.
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 occurred at Caesarea Philippi, a place northeast of Capernaum. At the time of Jesus, this place was a resort. The Jordan River 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. It is part of the Golan Heights, where so much warfare occurred not that long ago.
Central to the reading is Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus. The Lord asked Peter, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Jesus identified with the “Son of Man,” of the Old Testament, who was God’s special representative.
Peter 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 he himself saw Jesus as the “Son of the living God,” a profound proclamation of the Lord’s own divinity. Peter had faith. Faith gave him insight, wisdom and the courage of conviction.
Before accepting Christianity, two steps are necessary. First, realize that God exists. Second, believe that God communicates with people, and that people may communicate with God, if they choose. Neither is easy in our culture.
God is not boisterous. He does not shout divine revelation at us. He does not thunder divine decrees. Indeed, humans often 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 stated Paul in the letter to the Romans, read this weekend.
The readings from Isaiah and Matthew clearly indicate that God speaks through human instruments, such as Isaiah, such as the king and his servant.
What about Peter? His great faith gave him extraordinary wisdom. In his faith, he saw Jesus as God. What about us? Does our faith allow us to see? Are we confused? Or are we secure in our knowledge of God?
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