SERMON FOR THE 22ND SUN OF ORDINARY TIME
Year A 2014
Father Tim Kelly
The gospel is a continuation of last Sunday’s famous profession of faith by Simon Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
In response, the Lord Jesus gives the newly-renamed Peter a burden to carry for the rest of his life, to be the one on whom the entire church would rely. “On this rock will I build my Church….” He renames his Petros, a rock, big, hard, not too bright, but very reliable. But he was a broken rock, full of faults and weakness, easily broken. Simon Peter the broken rock will be the leader of God’s holy people on earth.
Then, after the great moment, Peter screws up everything. His new name Simon comes from the Hebrew word שִׁמְעוֹן Shimon to listen. “Listen, (or Hear O Israel) O Israel, the Lord your God is one….” (Deuteronomy 6:4). So maybe Jesus is admonishing Peter to listen and be quiet. If so, the message did not reach Peter, - Peter the listener was certainly not listening. He bursts out with “Heaven forbid that such a thing should happen to you.” (Verse 23) Not listening, Peter the Rock!! Not listening !!
Sometimes I think that Jesus must have smiled to himself for calling Simon a Listening Rock. Simon the Listening Rock is to be the leader of God’s holy people. I think that Jesus smiled at the irony that the worst listener in the whole pack of Apostles is now the one to lead them.
A MOST IMPERFECT POPE
The ark of the covenant was the tabernacle in which the people of Israel kept safe the artifacts which reminded them of their relationship with their God. Inside was the manna bread which their fugitive ancestors had to eat in the terrible barren desert of exile. Also there were the vestments worn by Aaron, the brother of Moses, but most importantly, the tablets of stone on which God Himself had written the Ten Commandments. But in rabinnical tradition, the broken fragments on which God had originally written the law are still there in the Ark of the Covenant. Moses smashed these tablets on the ground when, in great anger, he discovered that the Israelites had abandoned God and taken to worshipping a bull made of Gold. Imagine that! There were broken rocks inside the holy Ark of the Covenant, just as there are broken humans inside the holiest space in the world, the Church of Jesus Christ.
But David the king, God’s darling boy, ordered that the Ark of the Covenant be carried into Jerusalem. There is a scene, a perfect Ark, covered in gold with golden angels hovering over the treasure, processing through the city, a wildman king dancing in joy to receive it. What a sight of glory and greatness! There are broken rocks inside the Ark, and an even more broken king dancing before it on the street. God placed the fate of Israel his chosen people on the shoulders of a broken, sinful man.
A MOST IMPERFECT KING
The question is why would God have a broken shepherd for king and a broken fisherman for his chief Apostle. Why does he use impulsive lusty sinners to lead his people? Why does God not appoint a man of fine taste and culture to be light to the nations and to bring glory to his people Israel.
“You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against her. And I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” So why Peter?
So, I would argue that God’s choice of David and Peter as broken rocks on which he built his holy people reinforces the uncomfortable truth that the Church encompasses sinners in her bosom. Idiots, criminals, saints and powerful all sit in the same Catholic pew. They all need one thing in common, Mercy.
I am convinced that God chose David and then Peter because they knew their sins and they threw themselves on God’s mercy. The Church of Jesus is always to be a Church of mercy, a rock for mercy in a sea of recrimination, resentment and revenge.
“The worst reproach that can be levelled against the Church, and that, in fact, often applies to it is that it does not do what it proclaims to others. Indeed many people experience the Church as rigid, and lacking in mercy” Cardinal Walter Kasper, ‘Mercy’ p. 159
People who have never stood desperate before God, begging to be forgiven, morally naked and spiritually broken, will probably not like St. Peter very much. If you have never needed to be forgiven, then King David will mean nothing to you. If you think that you are smart, independent, successful and morally superior then Jesus’ choice of Simon Peter looks like a bad fit. (And, by the way, watch out for that step. OOPS! As we say, pride comes before a fall.)
Peter, the head of the apostles and the founder of the Roman Christian community knew that he needed forgiveness and mercy. He knew that he had done very bad things, even betraying Jesus three times, but he had hands-on, personal experience of the wasteful, prodigal and over-generous mercy.
Recovering sinners make great kings. Recovering sinners make great bishops. Look at the great Augustine. The best and most memorable leaders of God’s holy people throughout history have been Christian in remission from the cancer of sin. They know a secret about God and human life that allows them to be totally transformed into men and women of virtue. They have learned to ask for mercy and they have learned to accept mercy. Simon Peter, repentant sinner, pray for us.
Kelly Nicole Collins Baptism
The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ,
his only Son, Our Lord who was conceived by the
Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered
under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell on the third day He arose again
from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the
Right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will
come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the
communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection
of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
VBS 2014 at SMM