21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

    

     In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks each of us the most fundamental question of our faith. He asks us “who do you say that I am.” As Christians, I hope each of us responds like St Peter saying, “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But have you ever stopped to think about what we are really claiming?

     For as unbelievable as it may sound, there is no other reasonable argument for Jesus than that He is the Son of God. No one disputes the claim that historically there was a man named Jesus who lived in the region of Israel nearly two thousand years ago and founded a religion. Yet, Jesus was different from every other founder of a religion. While all other founders of religions claim to bring a message from God, Jesus claimed, not to be a simple messenger, but to actually be the Son of God,[1] to be the message itself. Jesus then was either the greatest gift or the greatest fraud in human history and so their are really only three possibilities. Jesus could either be a liar, a lunatic, or who He claimed to be, the Son of God.[2]

     Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries considered Him a liar and put Him to death for claiming to be God, but no sane person would die for a lie, so it makes no sense to claim Jesus was a liar. Perhaps then, He was crazy. While Jesus did many crazy things, like turning water into wine,[3] Jesus also did many rational things, like summarize the Ten Commandments into the two greatest commandments,[4] something a crazy person could not do. Thus the only option is for Jesus to be who He said He was, God.

     Now there are allot of people today, who will accept that Jesus, is the Son of God, but they claim they do not need the Church to follow Him to salvation. I don’t know about you, but I know that I am prone to mistakes, and when it comes to the path towards salvation, I don’t want to make a mistake and go down the wrong path. If God was going to send His only Son into the world to die for us, doesn’t it also only make sense that He would establish a structure, where He could continue to be with us down through the ages? You see Jesus knew that His mission was to suffer and die on the cross, rise from the dead and then ascend to the right hand of the Father, and so just after His identity is revealed, Jesus founded the church to carry out His saving work and entrusted it to the care of St. Peter.

     Jesus is clear in today’s Gospel, that He intends to start a Church, under the guidance of St. Peter and the protection of the Holy Spirit, whom He sent to the apostles gathered in the upper room on the feast of Pentecost. From the upper room, the apostles went out to every corner of the known world and began spreading the message of Jesus Christ. As the Church was established in different places, the apostles choose leaders of each local church and laid hands on them, ordaining them bishops. In this ancient gesture of laying on hands, the apostles handed on the authority they received from Jesus Christ to the next generation of leaders in the Church. Those men in turn laid hands on other men, who in turn laid hands upon other men on down until today. Every Catholic bishop through history has a direct line of succession to one of the 11 apostles who received their authority directly from Christ. Through this apostolic succession, the Holy Spirit has remained with the Catholic Church guiding her down through the centuries as she continues to carry out Christ’s saving mission in the world.

     While even too many Christians this claim may sound absurd, is it possible that 11 simple village people could somehow start a religion based off of the teaching of some crazy son of a carpenter? Could a religion with that grounding really immediately spread across the globe, through the witness of people who were willing to die for the faith? If Jesus was not who He said He is, how could the Church have survived over 2,000 years, outliving many powerful empires that sought to destroy her and today boast over 1.1 billion believers?

     Today, the Church continues to carry out the mission of Jesus Christ under the guidance of the bishops in union with the Pope, the successor to St. Peter. While many different Christian churches have formed through the ages, if you study their history you will see that all of them ultimately broke away from the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church continues to authentically hand down the saving message of Jesus Christ through her teaching in an unbroken and divinely protected lineage tracing itself back directly to Christ who first founded the Church and promised to remain with it always.

     My friends, the only logical conclusion to Jesus’ question in today’s Gospel is to boldly proclaim with St. Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Once we proclaim Jesus to be Christ, then we also must profess our faith in the Church which He founded upon St. Peter, for to proclaim to be a Christian, but to knowingly reject his Church is to either go against the will of Christ or to claim that He didn’t mean what He said when He told St. Peter He was founding His Church. While the difficult teachings of the Church, or perhaps the scandal caused by some of her members may cause some people to leave the Catholic Church, Jesus promised to be with His Church until the end of time. So, when the going get’s tough we have to answer Jesus’ question “who do you say that I am” and then trust that He will keep His promise and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against the Church. The choice is ours, we can try to go at it by ourselves and probably make a mistake or we can trust Jesus and follow the path He has laid out for us in the Catholic Church. Christ has left us a great treasure in the Catholic Church so that we can be brought to salvation, how can there be any other option for us?

[1] John 9:35-37

[2] This argument was first laid out in Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, revised edition, New York, Macmillan/Collier, 1952, p.55

[3] John 2: 1-12

[4] Matthew 22:36-40

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