21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)
Peter, you are the rock!
1. Opening prayer
a) A division of the text to help in the reading:
Matthew 16, 13-14: Jesus wants to know the opinion of the people
b) Key for the reading:
In the Gospel of this Sunday, Jesus questions concerning who people think he is: “Who do people say that I am?” After knowing the opinion of the people, he wants to know the opinion of his disciples. Peter, in the name of all makes his profession of faith. Jesus confirms Peter’s faith. In the course of the reading, let us pay attention to what follows: “Which type of confirmation does Jesus confer to Peter?”
c) The Text:
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, 'Who do people say the Son of man is?' 14 And they said, 'Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' 15 'But you,' he said, 'who do you say I am?' 16 Then Simon Peter spoke up and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' 17 Jesus replied, 'Simon son of Jonah, you are a blessed man! Because it was no human agency that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. 18 So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my community. And the gates of the underworld can never overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven: whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.' 20 Then he gave the disciples strict orders not to say to anyone that he was the Christ.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) Which is the point which struck you the most? Why?
5. For those who wish to deepen more into the theme
a) Context in which our text appears in the Gospel of Matthew:
* The conversation between Jesus and Peter receives diverse interpretations and even opposite ones in the several Christian Churches. In the Catholic Church, this is the foundation for the primacy of Peter. This is why, without in fact, diminishing the significance of the text, it is convenient to place it in the context of the Gospel of Matthew, in which, in other texts, the same qualities conferred on Peter are almost all, attributed to other persons. They do not belong exclusively to Peter.
* It is always well to keep in mind that the Gospel of Matthew was written at the end of the first century for the community of the converted Jews who lived in the Region of Galilee and Syria. They were communities which suffered and were victims of many doubts concerning their faith in Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew tries to help them to overcome the crisis and to confirm them in the faith in Jesus, the Messiah, who came to fulfil the promises of the Old Testament.
b) Commentary on the text:
Matthew 15, 13-16: The opinions of the people and of the disciples concerning Jesus.
Matthew 16, 17: The response of Jesus to Peter: “Blessed are you, Peter!”
Matthew 16, 18-20: the attributions of Peter:
ii) The keys of the Kingdom: Peter receives the keys of the Kingdom to bind and to loosen, that is, to reconcile the persons among themselves and with God. Behold, that here again the same power to bind and to loosen, is given not only to Peter, but also to the other disciples (Jn 20, 23) and to their own communities (Mt 18, 18). One of the points on which the Gospel of Matthew insists more is the reconciliation and forgiveness (Mt 5, 7.23-24.38-42-48; 6,14-15-35). In the years 80’s and 90’s, in Syria, because of faith in Jesus, there were many tensions in the communities and there were divisions in the families. Some accepted him as Messiah and others did not, and this was the cause for many tensions and conflicts. Matthew insists on reconciliation. Reconciliation was and continues to be one of the most important tasks of the coordinators of the communities at present. Imitating Peter, they have to bind and loosen, that is, do everything possible so that there be reconciliation, mutual acceptance, building up of the true fraternity “Seventy times seven!” (Mt 18, 22).
iii) The Church: The word Church, in Greek eklésia, appears 105 times in the New Testament, almost exclusively in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Letters. Only three times in the Gospels, and once only in the Gospel of Matthew. The word literally means “convoked” or “chosen”. It indicates the people who get together convoked by the Word of God, and who seek to live the message of the Kingdom which Jesus came to bring to us. The Church or the community is not the Kingdom, but an instrument or an indication of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is much greater. In the Church, in the community, what happens when a human group allows God to reign and allows God to be ‘Lord’ in one’s life, is rendered or should be rendered present to the eyes of all.
i) A picture of Saint Peter:
Peter, who was a fisherman of fish, became fisherman of men (Mk 1, 17). He was married (Mk 1, 30). He was a good man, very human. He was a natural leader among the twelve first disciples of Jesus. Jesus respects this leadership and makes Peter the animator of his first community (Jn 21, 17). Before entering into the community of Jesus, Peter was called Simäo Bar Jona (Mt 16, 17), that is, Simon, son of Jonah. Jesus calls him Cefas or Rock (Jn 1, 42), who later becomes Peter (Lk 6, 14).
By his nature and character, Peter could be everything, except pietra – rock. He was courageous in speaking, but in the moment of danger he allows himself to be dominated by fear and flees. For example, the time in which Jesus walked on the sea, Peter asks: “Jesus, allow me also to walk on the sea”. Jesus says: “You may come, Peter!” Peter got off from the boat and walked on the sea. But as soon as he saw a high wave, he was taken up with panic, lost trust, and began to sink and cry out: “Lord, save me!” Jesus assured him and saved him (Mt 14, 28-31).
In the Last Supper, Peter tells Jesus: “I will never deny you, Lord!” (Mk 14, 31), but a few hours later, in the Palace of the High Priest, in front of a servant , when Jesus had already been arrested, Peter denied, swearing that he had nothing to do with Jesus (Mk 14, 66-72).
When Jesus was in the Garden of Olives, Peter takes out the sword (Jn 18, 10), but ends fleeing, leaving Jesus alone. (Mk 14, 50). By nature, Peter was not rock!
But this Peter, so weak and human, so similar to us, becomes rock, because Jesus prays for him and says: “Peter, I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail, and once you have recovered, you in your turn must strengthen your brothers!” (Lk 22, 31-32). This is why Jesus could say: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church” (Mt 16, 18). Jesus helps him to be rock. After the Resurrection, in Galilee, Jesus appears to Peter and asks him two times: “Peter, do you love me?” And Peter responds two times: “Lord, you know that I love you!” (Jn 21, 15.16). When Jesus repeats the same question a third time, Peter became sad. Perhaps he remembered that he had denied Jesus three times. To this third question he answers: “Lord, you know all things! You know that I love you very much!” And it is then that Jesus entrusted to him the care of his sheep, saying: “Peter, feed my lambs!” (Jn 21, 17). With the help of Jesus, the firmness of the rock grows in Peter and is revealed on the day of Pentecost.
On the day of Pentecost, after the descent of the Holy Spirit, Peter opens the door of the room where all were meeting together, locked with a key because of fear of the Jews (Jn 20, 19), he takes courage and began to announce to the people the Good News of Jesus (Ac 2, 14-40). And he did not stop doing it! Thanks to this courageous announcement of the Resurrection, he was imprisoned (Ac 4, 3). During the trial, he was forbidden to announce the Good News (Ac 4, 18), but Peter does not obey this prohibition. He said: “We know that we have to obey God more than men!” (Ac 4, 19; 5, 29). He was arrested again (Ac 5, 18-26). He was tortured (Ac 5, 40). But he said: “Thank you. But we shall continue!” (cf. Ac 5, 42).
Tradition says that, towards the end of his life, in Rome, Peter was arrested and condemned to death, and death on the cross. He asked to be crucified with the head down. He believed he was not worthy to die like Jesus. Peter was faithful to himself up to the end!.
ii) Completing the context: Matthew 16, 21-23
Peter had confessed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” He had imagined a glorious Messiah, and Jesus corrects him: “It is necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to die in Jerusalem”. By saying that “it is necessary”, he indicates that suffering has already been foreseen in the Prophecies (Is 53, 2-8). If Peter accepts Jesus as Messiah and Son of God, he has to accept him also as the servant Messiah who will be put to death. Not only the triumph of the glory, but also the journeys to the cross! But Peter does not accept the correction and seeks to dissuade him.
The response of Jesus is surprising: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path because you are thinking not as God thinks but as human beings do”. Satan is the one who separates us from the path which God has traced for us. Literally, Jesus says: “Get behind me” (Get away!). Peter wanted to place himself in front and indicate the direction. Jesus says: “Get behind me!” He who indicates the course and direction is not Peter, but Jesus. The disciple has to follow the Master. He has to live in continuous conversion.
The Word of Jesus is also a reminder for all those who guide or direct a community. They have “to follow” Jesus and not place themselves in front of him as Peter wanted to do. No, only they can indicate the direction or the route. Otherwise, like Peter, they are not rock of support, but they become a rock of obstacle. Thus, were some of the leaders of the communities at the time of Matthew, full of ambiguity. Thus, it also happens among us even today!
6. Psalm 121
The Lord is my support
I lift up my eyes to the mountains;
May he save your foot from stumbling;
Yahweh is your guardian, your shade,
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.
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