September 11 – Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

My Dear Parishioners:

I think we would all agree that it is never easy to get to know someone really well. A husband and wife who have lived together for many years probably know each other really well. They have come to know each other’s qualities and limitations and have learned to accept one another. Likewise, two people who have been friends for years will have come to know one another really well. They will have come to some measure of mutual acceptance and appreciation. The number of people we could claim to know really well in life is probably quite small. Even those we know well can continue to surprise us. We can discover a side to them that we never noticed before. We can suddenly be reminded of the extraordinary mystery of the other person, struck by the otherness of the person whom we have come to know and love. We realize more clearly that the other person is different to me and will always remain a mystery to me, even though I know them as well as I know anyone.

If we were to ask someone who really knew us, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ and then asked that person to write a couple of paragraphs answering that question, we would certainly recognize ourselves in what they would write. Yet, it is likely that we would also recognize that there are sides to us that are not present in the description. There is always so much more to us than someone’s account of us, even the account of someone who knows us deeply. In the gospel this morning Jesus asks his disciples two questions. The first was, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ The answers the disciples gave were fine in so far as they went, ‘John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets.’ Jesus was a prophetic figure who proclaimed God’s word. Yet, to say that Jesus was a great prophet, which is what Moslems say of Jesus, does not go far enough. Jesus then asked his disciples the more probing question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Peter’s answer went beyond the answers that other people had given, ‘You are the Christ, the Messiah.’ Peter was saying to Jesus, ‘you are the Jewish Messiah, the one we have been waiting for, the one who’s coming the prophets foretold.’ Yet, in spite of the very good answer that Peter gave to Jesus’ question, he really did not know Jesus at all. The term ‘Messiah’ meant different things to different people. Probably Peter thought of a Messiah in the tradition of king David who had established a kingdom, having defeated all Israel’s enemies. Jesus would do the same, driving the Roman occupying power from the land. This was not the kind of Messiah Jesus understood himself to be. At this point in this ministry he understood that far from leading a movement to drive out the Romans, he would end up on a Roman cross, crucified like a common criminal. Faithfulness to his mission would cost him his life. When Jesus began to articulate this reality Peter rebuked Jesus. This was not Peter’s idea of a Messiah. Peter could not accept the otherness of Jesus, the mystery of Jesus’ identity. Peter was comfortable telling Jesus who he was, but when Jesus began to reveal who he really was and what that entailed Peter became distinctly uncomfortable.

We probably all find it easier telling people who they are than listening to people tell us who they really are. In particular, we can struggle to hear the story of someone’s brokenness, especially if our picture of them has been one that doesn’t allow for that. Peter wasn’t able to hear Jesus talking about himself as a broken, failed, rejected Messiah. It was really only after the resurrection that Peter and the disciples were able to come to terms with such brokenness, such failure. It can be a struggle for us to accept failure and brokenness in others and also to accept our own brokenness. Jesus could accept his own failure, his own brokenness, because he trusted in God as one who would make him whole. Because he could accept his own failure, his own brokenness, he was at home with the failure and brokenness of others. The broken, the failures of this world, flocked to him, and in his presence, they came alive. We will more easily accept our own brokenness and failures if we know in our heart of hearts that we too can approach the Lord as one who can make us whole. The Eucharist has been described as bread broken for a broken people. The Lord who was broken on the cross for us is present in the Eucharist as our Life-Giver.

You might notice at Mass when I break the Bread at the Lamb of God . . I pause . . . for just a moment and hold the broken Body of Christ high . . .for all to see.  We approach the Lord in the Eucharist in our own brokenness asking to be made whole and asking also for the grace to be able to sit with others in their brokenness.

Regularly I see our members of Saint Vincent DePaul receive those who come to us for assistance . . many broken in so many ways. Our Saint Vincent DePaul members do their best to receive these individuals as members of the Body of Christ. Sometimes it is difficult. However, it is only possible when we first recognize our own brokenness and dependency upon God (especially in the Eucharist) to heal us . . to make us whole again.

Blessings, Fr. John