• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

"You are Peter, and to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven ..."

Entrance Antiphon: Ps 85:1-3 – “Listen, Lord, and answer me. Save your servant who trusts in you. I call to you all the day long, have mercy on me, O Lord.”

First Reading: Is 22:19-23 “I will place the key of the House of David upon his shoulder.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8 — “Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands.”

Second Reading: Rom 11:33-36 — “From God and through him and for him are all things.”

Alleluia: Mt 16:18 — “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”

Gospel: Mt 16:13-20 — “You are Peter, and to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”

Communion Antiphon: Ps104(103):13-15 – “The earth is replete with the fruits of Your work, O Lord; You bring forth bread from the earth and wine to cheer the heart.”

In the Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech, Prince Albert, known among the royal family as Bertie, fears the possibility of becoming king of England. He cannot speak without stammering. And that affliction prevents him from addressing the nation in public … and on the radio. In some dramatic scenes, an unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue, helps to cure him, or to at least minimize his affliction. Eventually Bertie becomes King George VI and he and his wife, Elizabeth, are able to inspire the English people as they entered World War II.

In a similar way, allow me to set the scene of today’s Gospel. Jesus is about to reveal the suffering that awaits Him and as part of that He questions His disciples … “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” His courage in facing that upcoming trial is bolstered by Peter’s bold assertion, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

In giving you those two images ... I ask you to consider this ... As Christians, we reveal in our daily lives ... by what we say, by what we do, by how we act, and by how we treat others ... who Jesus is for us. One way during the COVID-19 pandemic that’s simple is the respect we demonstrate for ourselves and for others by wearing face masks, social distancing, and following the guidelines in place for your protection and the protection of those around you ... simple respect for self and respect for others. Peter’s inspired intuition about the identity of Jesus is rewarded with praise and a special privilege. He is given the figurative “keys of the kingdom” and the promise that the Church will not be overcome. Like Eliakim, the royal keeper of the keys of the House of David in the First Reading, he will be “a peg in a sure spot.” In time, Peter will prove himself to be the rock Jesus needs him to be. But as we all know, he will be a slow learner, making mistakes and falling flat repeatedly before finally laying down his life for his Savior. In his journey, Peter will try to deter Jesus from the cross. He will even deny even knowing Jesus. And having said that, think about you own life. Remembering Peter’s fallibilities can help to accept our failings and move on in our efforts to be reliable servants. And remembering Saint Peter’s great love for Jesus can inspire us to increase our own. Each of us is called to reflect Jesus in our own way.

There is one way, however, that we often overlook. It is to be a friend to the so-called “nobodies” we meet in our daily rounds ... in the events and the encounters of our everyday lives. I still vividly remember a homeless Vietnam veteran named Sam whose toothless mouth and unwashed body made others avoid him. You could often see him begging at the base of the Ben Franklin Bridge on the Philly side as you came to that first traffic light as you came down over the bridge. When I was at Sacred Heart in Camden between my second and third year of seminary, back almost 20 years ago, Sam came to the door of the rectory and begged a dollar for a beer to help him bear his loneliness, Msgr. Doyle insisted on taking him to a neighborhood bar so the three of us could all have a beer together. I can still recall those events as if they happened only yesterday ... and I’ve come to see more and more … that in simple acts of compassion … Jesus reveals Himself to us.

Jesus relies on us, as a Christian community, to grow in our understanding of who He is and to share that understanding with others. When Jesus wanted to know what people were saying about Him, His disciples report that He is being identified with various prophets who have come back from the dead. The people recognize Him as a great prophet, but they cannot see that He is the very Messiah they have been praying for. Once Peter makes his confession of faith, his companions make it their own. By worshipping together at daily or Sunday Mass, by joining in Scripture study groups, and by sharing our own experiences of Jesus with our friends and neighbors, we become more sure of our faith … more in love with the Lord … and more willing to make Him known to those who have yet to encounter Him. We don’t have to be missionaries, preachers, or teachers to share who Jesus is to us. … When King George VI had to speak to his people for the first time on the radio, Lionel Logue encouraged him by advising, “Say it to me as if you were saying it to a friend.” Guess what? Each one of us can share our Jesus stories in the same way.

Jesus relies on us to pray, as Saint Francis of Assisi often did, “O God, who are you? And God, who am I?” Saint Francis did not require an explicit answer. He knew that self-knowledge is one of the most basic requirements of the spiritual life. Because our lives are so filled with static of what is going on around us, so wired to computers and smart phones, so stressed out by COVID-19 ... and so heavy with financial stress … a quiet and unassuming prayer like that of Francis does not come easily. It takes an act of love … an act of love for God and an act of love for ourselves … to clear the space for it. It is likewise an act of love to ask each other, “Who do you say I am?” Because we are often down on ourselves, we need to be reminded of our royal birth. There is an African-American spiritual that says, “If anybody asks you who I am, tell them that I’m a child of God.” I sometimes wonder what would happen if only each of us could simply remember that in our daily dealings with other people. I think our attitude and our behavior toward our fellow human beings would be quite different.

In gathering in this church or in any church in this Diocese, this country, or around the world ... when we gather around the altar of the Lord … and when we receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ … as we will in a bit … may we come to realize our identity as children of God and not be afraid to share that knowledge with those individuals we come in contact with outside these doors.

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