21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

     “Who do you say that I am?”[1] It’s the most fundamental of question of our faith. It’s a question that each and every one of us has to take the time to step back and honestly answer. So, when you hear Jesus in today’s gospel ask the question “who do you say that I am”[2] how do you answer that question. Honestly. Not, how you would answer it to someone else or to a religion teacher, but how do you actually answer it in the depth of your heart? However you answer that question is a good start because it is an honest assessment of where you are on the journey of faith, however, as Christians, each and every one of us has to strive to cooperate with God’s grace to come to a point where we can be like St. Peter and in the depth of our hearts we can actually respond to Jesus, “you are the Christ the son of the living God.”[3]

     Have you ever stopped to think about what that claim really is? We are all here, I assume most of us are at a point in our faith journey where we actually say that Jesus is the Son of God, but have you ever taken a moment to actually realize how amazing and powerful that is? Doesn’t it seem almost too good to be true; that God would become a man like us? Doesn’t it seem unbelievable that God would even dare to love us to a point that He would send His Son into the world to suffer and die so that we might “have life and have it more abundantly?”[4] Yet, that is what we profess as Christians. I don’t think the mind has the capacity to fully comprehend the great significance of that.

     Yet, for as unbelievable as it may sound there is no other reasonable argument for who Jesus is other than to actually profess that He is the Son of God. You see, no one disputes that historically there was this person Jesus Christ, who roamed the region of modern-day Israel, nearly 2,000 years ago and that He founded a religion. Even the staunchest atheist in the world has to accept the historical truths of this person, Jesus Christ. Yet, Jesus is different from every other founder of every other religion. You see every other founder of a religion claims just to be a messenger of some kind. They claim to come to tell you what God has, they claim to come to give you a path towards salvation, peace, etc. But Jesus doesn’t claim just to be a simple messenger. He claims actually the Son of God.[5] He doesn’t claim just to be just another messenger, He claims to be the message itself. Jesus then is either the greatest gift this world has ever seen or He is the greatest fraud that has ever been perpetrated in the history of humanity.

     So was Jesus the greatest gift or the greatest fraud. Well, there are only three possibilities for Jesus. Either is a flat-out liar, He claims to be the of God in today’s Gospel so if He isn’t he’s a liar, He’s a mad man who is utterly nuts and has had some kind of psychotic breakdown, or He is who He actually says He is.[6] Look Jesus’s contemporaries considered Him a liar, that is why they put Him to death on the cross. They killed Him because He claimed to be the Son of God and they believed He wasn’t. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know any sane person who would die for a lie. I know some mean and evil people out there who would lie to make money, to be famous, or some kind of gain on their own part, but when push comes to shove and they are told they are caught in their lie and either they give it up or they will be put to death, no sane person would persist in their lie. It makes no sense to claim that Jesus is a liar. Fine, maybe he is crazy, after all there are crazy people today who claim to be God. He does allot of crazy things in the scriptures, but He also does the most rational things possible. For example, when the Jewish people try to trick Him into saying which is the greatest commandment, He summarizes all of the commandments down to two and impresses the greatest scholars of His day.[7]  That’s certainly not something who is totally crazy would do. Thus, the only option for Jesus is that He is who He says He is, the Son of God.

     Look there are allot of people in today’s world who will claim that Jesus is the Son of God, you can’t ignore when you actually sit down and face it. But they will go on to claim they believe in Jesus, they have a relationship with Jesus, but they don’t need any kind of Church. They are spiritual but not religious. I’m sure you’ve met people like this, it’s mostly people my age. They believe in Jesus but claim the Church just gets in the way. Jesus and them are good enough alone, they claim. Well I have a little problem with that, because Jesus actually found a church and if He is God, it seems that we better listen to Him. I’ve got another problem with that claim as well. If I am honest with myself, I have to admit that I make mistakes and so when it comes to the path of salvation, I don’t want to trust myself. If I make human mistakes day in and day out, you can be sure that if it is just up to me, I will make mistakes in the spiritual journey and get off path and I don’t want to make a mistake or go off the path. The stakes are too high.

     Look, if Jesus is going to send His only Son into the world to suffer and die for us, don’t you think He is going to show us exactly how to get back to heaven. He sends His Son into the world because He wants to spend eternity with us forever in heaven. He is not going to simply say you have to figure it out on your own. No, Jesus knew that His mission was to suffer and die on the cross and then He was going to ascend to the right hand of the Father and so just after He reveals His identity, He founds a Church to carry out His saving work. You notice in today’s Gospel He gives the responsibility to one person, St. Peter.

     Jesus is clear in today’s gospel that He intends to found a church under the guidance of St. Peter and the protection of the Holy Spirit, who descends upon the apostles gathered in the Upper Room at Pentecost. From that upper room, the apostles went out to all four corners of the world. They make it as far east as India and as far west as Spain. As they go they proclaim the message of Jesus Christ and as the Church is established in different places the apostles choose leaders of these local churches and lay hands on them ordaining them. In this ancient gesture of laying on of hands the apostle’s hand on that authority that they received from Jesus Himself, to the next generation to be the leaders of the Church. Those men, in turn had hands laid upon them, and on down until today. Every Catholic bishop in history can trace their lineage back to one of these original eleven apostles. On Tuesday, St. Louis will receive a new bishop. He is already a bishop, but He will become the bishop of St. Louis. His lineage can be traced back to one of those first eleven apostles.

     You see, 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, He is the Son of the living God. But once we proclaim that Jesus is Christ, then we also have to proclaim our faith in the Church which He founded upon St. Peter which professes to follow Jesus Christ. To proclaim to be a Christian, to be a follower of Jesus Christ, but then to claim that we don’t need a Church, or that we are just spiritual, or that we have it all figured out is actually not to follow Jesus Christ. All you have to do is open today’s Gospel to see it.

     At the end of the day, when we come to the point and we acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God then we have two options. We can try to create our own path ourselves, we can try to forge ahead and hope we don’t make a mistake along the way or we can surrender ourselves to the Church saying Jesus came to save me and He has given me the path, all I have to do is follow. Christ left us this treasure of the Church so we can be brought to salvation. The first question for us to answer the question in today’s Gospel “who do you say that I am?”[8] The second task is to follow Him by staying in the mechanism of the Church He gave us, so that we can spend eternity with Him forever in heaven.

[1] Matthew 16:15

[2] Matthew 16:15

[3] Mathew 16:16

[4] John 10:10

[5] John 9:35-37

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

[7] Matthew 22:36-40

[8] Matthew 16:15

One thought on “21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

  1. Fr Peter thank you for this awesome homily. I couldn’t wait to get it today so I could send it out to my children who are Christian’s but their lives are to busy to go to church. Hopefully they will hear from you what Patti and I have been trying to tell them and find their way back to Mass so they can get recharged on Sunday morning and be better prepared to face the challenges of life head on

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