HOMILY FOR THE 21ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A.
THEME: AN APOLOGY LETTER TO SIMON PETER.
BY: Fr Andrew Ekpenyong.
Dear Simon Peter,
1. Firstly, congratulations on being declared “Blessed” even before your death, on that memorable day in the Graeco-Roman city of Caesarea Philippi, located between Mt Hermon and the Jordan River. We’ve just been reminded of this event in today’s Gospel reading (Mt 16:13-20). Our Lord said to you: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.” (v.17). Just as our cosmic battle is not against flesh and blood (Eph 6:12), it was not flesh and blood that revealed to you the answer to our Lord’s quiz that day. But it was a decisive quiz about the identity of Jesus Christ. God the Father revealed the answer to you, and you stated it publicly: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (v.16). You were not the first to receive revelation about the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. Right after His Baptism at the Jordan River “…a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Mt 3:17). But you, Simon, seem to be the first to state publicly that you believed what was revealed. Thank you, Simon, for publicly confessing your faith. Even today, we learn from you, to publicly confess our faith in Christ Jesus as Son of God. You even gave us guidance on how to do so: namely, that we should have answers ready when asked and should answer with gentleness and reverence (1 Pt 3:15-16).
2. Secondly, about the function given you in today’s Gospel reading, we have some apologies to make. Our Lord responded to you: “… you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it,” (Mt 16:18). At this point it became clear why He gave you that new name “Peter” or Petros (Greek) or Kepha (Aramaic) all meaning “Rock”, from the very first day your brother (Andrew) brought you to meet Him: “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).” (Jn 1:42). He gave you a new name that would reflect your new function: “You are Rock and upon this rock I will build my Church.” Even though our Lord fulfilled this promise to you in unmistakable terms after His resurrection, some of us still raise doubts over your function as rock on which Christ built His Church. He told you “feed my lambs”; “tend my sheep”; “feed my sheep” (Jn 21:21-17). You see, dear Simon Peter, when our Lord makes promises to us individually, we believe it and rejoice in its fulfilment. But the promises He made to you; some still raise questions. Imagine the second promise given you in today’s Gospel reading: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Mt 16:19). Of course, He later extended the authority of binding or loosing to the whole Church (Mt 18:18). But it was to you alone that He gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Yes: “The power to ‘bind and loose’ connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgements, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom.” (CCC 553). We apologize to you because sometimes we show discomfort over this authority given you, the way Miriam and Aaron, sister and brother of Moses, showed some discomfort over Moses’ authority. They asked, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” (Num 12:2).”
3. Thirdly, accept our apology because, following our baptism and reception of Holy Communion, we know individually that we remain capable of falling again and do fall again. But following the special authority bestowed on you, some tended to expect you and your successors to be faultless. Being given special authority to pronounce God’s revelation and strengthen others in faith did not shield you from moral failures. To your great embarrassment, you lied and repented during our Lord’s Passion. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” according to the 2nd reading today (Rom 11:33-36). Indeed, God’s authority is perfected in your weakness (2 Cor 12:9). You were human and being the rock upon which Christ built His Church clearly took more than human strength and virtue. In spite of your human weakness and those of your successors, we can still see God’s power using you then and using them today to tend the flock of Christ. To God be the glory forever, Amen.
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