21st Sunday of the Year Isaiah 22:19–23; Romans 11:33–36; Matthew 16:13–20
Can you find the man? We find Jesus in the Eucharist, in the needy in our midst, and in personal prayer.
Alittle girl went to her first religious education class. After class her mother asked her, Amy, how did you like religion today? The little girl said, I didn’t like it at all. Her mother said, It was your first time. Just wait a few weeks. You’ll come to like it.
Three weeks later the little girl came home with big tears in her eyes. What’s the matter? her mother asked. It’s religion, the little girl said. Must I keep going? Why? asked her mother. What’s wrong?
Well, said the little girl, everybody talks about somebody named Jesus. And I don’t know who he is. I’ve never even met him.
Judging from today’s gospel, there were a lot of people in biblical times who didn’t know Jesus either. They had heard others talk about him, but they had never met him themselves.
But that could be remedied easily enough. One of Jesus’ followers could tell them, Come along with us today. Jesus will be speaking along the seashore. Listen to him yourself. Afterward you can meet him and talk with him.
It’s not that easy for you and me today. There’s no one who can say to us, Come with us today. Jesus will be speaking at the shopping mall. Listen to him yourself. Afterward you can meet him and talk with him.
This raises an important question. Where can we find Jesus today? Where can we listen to him?
Where can we meet him up close and personal, and get to know him ourselves?
And, of course, you and I know the answer. We find Jesus right here in this church, as we celebrate together the Lord’s Supper. Jesus himself said, Where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them. Matthew 18:20
Granted we find Jesus around the Lord’s table, but how can we hear him speak to us? Again, you and I know the answer. Jesus speaks to us through the Scripture, especially as it is read and explained at Mass. Jesus himself said to his disciples, Whoever listens to you listens to me. Luke 10:16
And, finally, how do we meet Jesus, up close and personal? Again we know the answer. We meet Jesus in the eucharistic banquet, which we will be sharing in a few minutes.
But is this the only place where we can meet Jesus in today’s world? How about the other six days of the week? Is it possible to meet Jesus in the course of our everyday life? The answer is yes.
First of all we meet him, again, when two or three gather in his name. I like to think of this happening, especially, when we gather as a family around the supper table and say grace together in his name.
It’s a moving experience to see a family holding hands as they say grace together. At the moment they join hands, Jesus becomes present to that family in a special way.
If holding hands while saying grace is not a part of your supper gathering, I suggest you do it this coming week as a special response to this Sunday’s reading. It may seem awkward at first but it will help bring home the fact that Jesus joins you then in a special way.
A second way we meet Jesus during the week is when we reach out to someone in need. Whenever we share with someone hungry, house someone homeless, or befriend someone lonely, we meet Jesus.
I tell you, said Jesus, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers [and sisters] of mine, you did it for me! Matthew 25:40
The needy person we reach out to may be a husband, wife, or child, or someone outside the family.
A third way we meet Jesus during the week is when we are tired, or depressed, or frightened, or confused, and we reach out to Jesus in prayer.
Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. . . . Learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. Matthew 11:28–29
And so, we don’t have to get into a time machine and travel backward into history to meet Jesus, listen to him, and talk to him. Jesus is risen and present in our world today. He is here just as truly as he was in Galilee.
Let us sum up what we have been saying with a story. In his book Prayer from Where You Are, James Carroll recalls something many of us remember from our own childhood.
Every Sunday the comic page of the newspaper used to carry a series of printed games. One of everybody’s favorites was a picture showing some scene, like a family enjoying a picnic in a park. Printed beneath the picture were the words, Can you find the man hidden in this scene?
You’d look and look, and at first you wouldn’t see anything that looked like a man. Then you’d turn the paper around this way and that way to get a different view of it.
Suddenly, from the edge of a fluffy white cloud you’d see an ear. Then, from the green leaves of a tree you’d see a mouth, and so on, until you’d see an entire man’s face smiling out at you from the picnic scene.
Once you saw that man, that picnic scene was never the same again. For you had found the hidden man. You yourself had seen his smiling face.
It’s that way in our own lives. We Christians know, by faith, that there’s a man hidden away in every scene of daily life. And that man’s name is Jesus. Once we find him and meet him, up close and personal, no scene in life is ever the same again.
This is part of the message in today’s gospel. This is part of the good new of the Lord that we are to carry into the week with us.
Let’s close with a prayer:
Lord, sometimes we feel like the little girl who didn’t like her religious education class. We hear people talking about you, but we have not yet met you ourselves. That’s why we have never been able to answer the question you put to your disciples in today’s gospel: “Who do you say I am?”
Help us find you not only in joined hands around the family supper table, but in outreached hands to the lonely and needy and in upreached hands to you in personal prayer.
Help us see your smiling face looking out at us from every scene of daily life. Then, with Peter, we too will be able to say, “Lord, you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” M.L.
Series II 21st Sunday of the Year Isaiah 22:19–23; Romans 11:33–36; Matthew 16:13–20
Special friend If we want to get to know Jesus better, we must arrange to meet him daily in prayer.
The next time you’re looking for a good book to read, go to the public library. But don’t go to the adult section of the library. Go to the children’s section.
There you’ll find a book written by Susan Balika and Craig Boldman. I won’t tell you the title of the book because that would give my story away.
The book’s about a little boy, whom we’ll call Bobby. Bobby tells us about his four best friends.
First, there’s Jimmy. Jimmy and Bobby go on imaginary trips to the moon. But sometimes Jimmy visits his grandmother and leaves Bobby all alone. This makes Bobby very sad.
Second, there’s Jamie. Jamie and Bobby used to color pictures and tape them to the refrigerator door for everyone to see. But recently Jamie moved, and now Bobby misses her very much.
Third, there’s David. David and Bobby spend hours together building houses out of wooden blocks. There’s only one problem. Sometimes they fight and David goes home, leaving Bobby all alone.
Finally, there’s Bobby’s best friend. This friend never leaves him. He never moves to a different city. He never gets mad and goes home. He always stays at Bobby’s side.
For example, in summer they lie on the grass together and discuss where clouds come from. In winter they slide down hills together on a sled in the crunchy white snow.
By now you are probably wondering who Bobby’s special friend is.
To learn who it is, you have to turn to the last page in the book. There you find a picture of Bobby’s special friend.
The book ends with Bobby asking this question of the reader:
Do you know my special friend, Jesus?
Ilike that story because it leaves the reader with the same important question that Jesus leaves his hearers with in today’s gospel: “Who do you say I am?”
Bobby answered Jesus’ question by saying:
You are my special friend. You never leave me. You never move to another city. You never get mad at me and go home, even when I do something wrong. You stay at my side no matter what happens. You are always there to help me.
This brings us back to the important question that Bobby asks at the end of the book: “Do you know my special friend, Jesus?” It leaves us with the important question that Jesus asks us in today’s gospel:
“Who do you say I am?”
If we have trouble answering Bobby’s question, “Do you know my special friend, Jesus?” or if we have trouble answering Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” maybe Jesus is speaking to us in a special way in today’s Scripture readings.
Maybe he’s inviting us to get to know him better. Maybe he’s inviting us to get better acquainted with him. Maybe he’s inviting us to enter into a special friendship with him. When we want to get to know someone better, when we want to enter into a special friendship with someone, we arrange to meet with that person. We schedule specific times and specific places to be with him or her.
The same procedure holds if we want to get to know Jesus better. We must arrange to meet with him and talk with him on a regular basis. We schedule specific times and specific places to be with him.
We call these meetings daily prayer.
Daily prayer is simply taking time out of our schedule, on a regular basis, to meet with Jesus and to get to know him better. It is simply setting up a priority whereby we set aside some time each day to become better acquainted with Jesus.
In his book Hungry for God, Ralph Martin writes:
A real estate man I know gets up early in the morning to pray; an aerospace engineer prays and reads Scripture on his lunch hour; a production manager of a computing firm prays after his children are in bed at night.
Martin goes on to note that the demands of modern life are such that if we don’t have a schedule for prayer, we probably won’t pray.
When something becomes important to us, we don’t leave it to chance. We schedule it right into our day.
The same is true if we want to get to know Jesus better. Unless there is a commitment to fixed times of prayer, we probably will not pray. That’s just the way we humans are made.
This brings us back to the original question that Bobby asked us at the end of the book:
“Do you know my special friend, Jesus?”
If our answer to Bobby’s question is “Not as well as I would like to know him,” then maybe Jesus is speaking to us today through today’s Scripture readings.
Maybe he’s inviting us to take time out from our busy schedule to meet him on a daily basis to get to know him better.
Maybe he’s inviting us to begin spending a few minutes each evening reviewing our day with him and asking him what he thinks of it.
Maybe he’s inviting us to begin spending a few minutes each evening speaking to him about our hopes, our dreams, our doubts, and our problems.
Maybe he’s inviting us to begin a practice of meeting with him daily in prayer.
Maybe he’s inviting us to discover what little Bobby discovered.
Maybe he’s inviting us to discover that he’s indeed “our special friend,” just waiting to enrich our life in ways that we never dreamed to be possible.
Series III 21st Sunday of the Year Isaiah 22:19–23; Romans 11:33–36; Matthew 16:13–20
The Church Foreshadowed in creation, prepared for in Old Testament times, established by Christ, formed into one body by the Holy Spirit. Peter, you are a rock, and on this rock . . . I will build my Church.” Matthew 16:18
William Barclay was a famous Scottish theologian. He brought theology down to the level of the average person, by using concrete examples and stories.
One of his stories concerns an old African chief, who was present one Sunday morning, when Ngoni, Senga, and Tumbuka tribes were worshiping side by side just as we are right now. Suddenly the chief ’s mind flashed back to his boyhood, when he used to watch Ngoni warriors after a day’s fighting wash Senga and Tumbuka blood from their spears and their bodies.
The contrast between what he saw then and what he was seeing now was the difference between day and night.
That morning, the old chief understood as never before what the Church is all about. It’s about God’s plan for the human race. In the words of Paul:
This plan . . . is to bring all creation together . . . with Christ as its head. Ephesians 1:10
Thus, the “first stage” of God’s plan was the creation of the world.
It foreshadowed the Church in the same sense that blossoms on a fruit tree foreshadowed the coming of fruit.
The “second stage” of God’s plan took place after the human race sinned. God gave it a second chance. Under the leadership of Moses, God led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt to Mount Sinai. There God forged a covenant with them, making them the “chosen people.”
Their role in God’s plan was to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus.
The “third stage” of God’s plan began with the coming of Jesus. His role was to redeem the human race and “plant” the Kingdom of God on earth.
To facilitate the growth of God’s Kingdom, Jesus established the Church, saying, “Peter: you are a rock, and on this rock . . I will build my Church.” Matthew 16:18
The Church was to be the sign and instrument by which the Kingdom of God would spread across the world.
The “fourth stage” in God’s plan occurred after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.
He sent the Holy Spirit upon his disciples as he had promised, when he said:
The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and make you remember all that I have told you. John 14:26
The role of the Holy Spirit is to form the followers of Jesus into the mystical body of Christ. Thus, Saint Paul writes:
All of us . . . have been baptized into the one body by the same Spirit. We are one body in union with Christ. . . . He is the head of his body, the church; he is the source of the body’s life. 1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 12:5; Colossians 1:8
Saint Augustine made this comparison:
What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church. The soul makes every part of the human body alive.
In the same way the Holy Spirit makes every part of Christ’s body, the Church, alive with God’s grace.
Thus, Paul writes to the Ephesians:
You are . . . built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, the cornerstone being Christ Jesus himself.
He is the one who holds the whole building together and makes it grow into a sacred temple dedicated to the Lord. Ephesians 2:19–21
And so, the Church is at the heart of God’s plan for the human race.
It was foreshadowed in creation, prepared for in the Old Testament, established by Jesus, and formed into the one Body of the risen Christ, by the Holy Spirit. This brings us to an important point that we must never forget.
The Church is unlike any other community on earth. It has two dimensions: a divine one and a human one.
The divine dimension is none other than Christ himself, who is its head and source of life.
The human dimension is the membership of the Church. It is you and I.
By our witness and worship, we make Christ visibly present in the world. But human dimension of the Church is like everything human. It has its human flaws even among those chosen to succeed the apostles.
Thus, the Church doesn’t always show forth the “face of Christ” to the world, as it should.
In other words, the Church is like each one of us. It is still struggling to be what God called it to be.
Here on earth, the Church will always be a mixture of light and darkness.
There will always be enough light for those who wish to see the “face” of Christ in the Church. And there will also be enough darkness for those whose disposition is otherwise.
And that’s how it should be. The light should never overpower us and take away our freedom. It should only invite us, preserving our freedom.
Let us close with a poem that sums up the situation of the Church as it exists here on earth. It reads:
I think I shall never see a church that’s all it ought to be:
A church whose members never stray beyond the straight and narrow way.
A church that has no empty pews, whose pastor never has the blues. . . . Such perfect churches there may be, but none of them are known to me.
But still, we’ll work and pray and plan to make our own the best we can. Author unknown