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The Peace Pulpit
Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

By special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company is able to make available Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton's weekly Sunday homilies given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI.  Each homily is transcribed from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you as an NCR Web site exclusive.  You may register for a weekly e-mail reminder that will be sent to you when each new homily is posted.  From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide us with the homily for the week.
NOTE:  The homilies are available five days after they are given, always on Friday. 
August 25, 2002
Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

This week's readings **

Isaiah 22:19-23

Thus says the Lord to Shebna, "I will thrust you from your office. You will be pulled down from your station.  It will happen on that day that I will call my servant Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and strengthen him with your belt. I will commit your government into his hand; and he will be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.  I will lay the key of the house of David on his shoulder. He will open, and no one will shut. He will shut, and no one will open.  I will fasten him like a nail in a sure place. He will be as a throne of glory to his father's house."

Romans 11:33-36

Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments, and how unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Or who has first given to him, nd it will be repaid to him again?  For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen.

Matthew 16:13-20

Now when Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, "Who do peoplw say that the Son of Man is?"  They said, "Some say John the Baptizer, some, Elijah, and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets."  He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. I also tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my assembly, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; and whatever you release on earth will be released in heaven."  Then he charged the disciples that they should tell no one that he is Jesus the Christ.

* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published numerous articles and reports.

** Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.

For your convenience, the Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCC).


We've heard the gospel passage from today’s liturgy many, many times. And I’m certain that all of us are very familiar with the words Jesus spoke to Peter, “You are rock and on this rock I will build my church.” Then Jesus goes on to say, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth, will be bound on heaven and whatever you unbind, will be unbound in heaven.”

     Probably, for most of us, we think of that passage in terms of what has happened within the church.  We have come to understand what Jesus said to Peter as applying only to the pope. In fact, if you have ever been to Rome, to St. Peter’s Basilica, the huge dome that is a masterpiece of architecture up at the top, you will see encircling the inside portion of the dome this passage quoted in letters that are at least two feet high:  Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church. We immediately think of the pope.

     But actually, it’s important for us to realize that this interpretation was late in the history of the church. It wasn’t until the fourth century that anyone applied those words, not just to Peter, but to the pope and, also, that the pope had this total authority within the church. Even after the fourth century, until the end of the nineteenth century of the First Vatican Council, this kind of teaching was made very prominent. And for the next hundred years within the church, the papacy became a very centralized and a very controlling part of the church.

     Then in 1965, at the end of the Second Vatican Council, there was an attempt to correct what had become a distortion. And it’s easy to understand why we needed correction. If you read further on in Matthew’s gospel, you find Jesus saying to all the disciples and to the whole community, “I say to you, whatever you bind on earth, heaven will keep bound and whatever you unbind on earth, heaven will keep unbound.”  So it’s to the whole community that Jesus really addressed those words.

     And the teaching that we received from the Second Vatican Council helps to give more balance to the passage that we hear today.  

     As you recall, one of the major teachings of that council was that every person in the church, every one of us, is equal in freedom and dignity.  We’re a whole community of disciples of Jesus, equal in freedom and dignity. And, in fact, there was a great stress placed on what we call collegiality.  That the church works together--especially among the bishops of the whole world.  It’s a college of bishops that is given oversight over the whole church, not just one person. That’s a very important corrective that we need to take into account as we try to understand better what Jesus is teaching us today.

     An earlier interpretation of this passage was that Peter was really being presented in a typological way.  Peter was like a model for us, an example of every Christian.  And so what Jesus was saying to every one of us is, “You are rock and on your faith is the foundation of the whole church; not just on Peter, but all of us.”

     Now, I think that’s a very important understanding and I’m sure that many of us would feel a certain privilege and even a kind of building up of our dignity to realize that everyone of us was being spoken to by Jesus -- that you are rock and on this rock I will build my whole church.  But, even as we accept this call from Jesus, it’s important to try to understand the implications of what that means for every one of us.

     First of all, it means, I think, that we have a responsibility within our community of faith. Ask yourself:  Why do you come to church on Sunday?  For many of us, it’s obligation. I think not so much here at this community, but for many people, it is still obligation.  We think we owe something to God and so we have to come.  But if we really understand who we are as disciples of Jesus, as those in whom faith has been given as a gift and on whom the foundation of our community depends, then we might begin to understand that it’s important to come to church, to celebrate together -- because we have to share our faith with one another. 

     As I come here and celebrate with all of you, I’m enriched and my faith is deepened and strengthened. And that is the same for every one of us.  If we miss, then we’re not giving to our community.  We have a real responsibility to share the gift of faith that God has given us.  By coming together and celebrating that faith together, we build up God’s church. 

     And so I think that’s the first thing we ought to realize.  That when we come together to celebrate, and as one who has been called to be the rock of faith, we share our gift.   When we come and we receive from others, we strengthen our whole community. 

     But then also, I think, as we reflect on this, we can begin to understand better what faith means. 

     Consider for instance when Peter was gifted by God and was able to say to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Before that, Peter had only recognized Jesus as one like us in every way, a fellow human being.  Suddenly, he received the insight that this is God.  Now that didn’t change his relationship to Jesus on the human level and we need that in faith, all of us. We need to have the kind of faith that Peter demonstrates in today’s gospel, where he knows Jesus as a friend, he knows Jesus as a fellow human person and he knows Jesus also though as the son of God.

     If we can come to know Jesus more deeply as one like us, as a human, our faith will grow and we will be enriched by the friendship we can develop with Jesus-- just as Peter.

     You know, Peter had a very special relationship with Jesus.  Shortly before the passage that we heard today, Jesus was rebuking Peter -- oh you of little faith -- because Peter had started to trust in Jesus and then stopped. But Jesus could rebuke him and Peter could respond in a very human way.  And later on, after today’s passage, Peter feels bold enough to criticize Jesus.  The trust that is between the two of them is so strong that Peter is not afraid to criticize.  You have to have a deep friendship before you can do that.  And Jesus speaks back to Peter even kind of harshly.  But they had such a trusting friendship that they could interact that way.

     And that’s what we need to develop within our own prayer life; that kind of understanding of Jesus as someone who can really be our friend. He can know us and accept us and understand us.

     Earlier this week, when we were celebrating the funeral liturgy for Mrs. Christine Lett, it occurred to me that one of the most beautiful things about our relationship with Jesus is how, in the gospel of John, Jesus is depicted as weeping at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. He broke down in grief.  When you experience death, it can be very hard.  People come and they often don’t really know what to say.  Or if we go to comfort somebody else, it’s again is hard to know what to say.  But it’s important to know that when you interact with someone who understands what you are going through, it can be very strengthening.
     And if we really know Jesus, we know how he can strengthen us in that way because we know he understands what it is to lose someone very close that you love.  He understands.  

     That’s why we sometimes sing the song, ‘What a friend we have in Jesus.’  He knows us and he understands us.  But we have to deepen that relationship to make it really happen. Yet, at the same time, like Peter, when we get the gift of faith, we can declare that Jesus, this one who is our friend, “Yes, you are the son of the living God.”  And if we really accept that part of who Jesus is, then of course there are further implications for us.  If we really believe that Jesus is the son of God, then every word he speaks comes from God.  

     So when he tells us some of those hard things about ‘loving your enemy’ and ‘doing good to those who hurt you,’ it seems so unreal. And yet it’s the son of God who tells us that. The son of God who says, “You will never achieve peace in the world through violence.”  The son of God who says, “The only way to bring peace is through justice and through love and compassion and forgiveness.”  It’s the son of God who is saying those things.

     Our faith compels us to struggle to understand what Jesus is saying and to follow it no matter how radical and how hard it seems to be.  If we understand Jesus and know Jesus as one like us in every way, but also son of God, then we will struggle to follow what he tells us. Sometimes, it may be as St. Paul says, “We don’t understand.  It’s all a mystery.”  But it’s God who is the mystery and, somehow, in God we find comfort and compassion and love and the strength to follow the way of Jesus.

     This morning then, as we reflect on today’s gospel lesson, I hope that we will, each of us, experience more deeply the call that we have, each of us, the call to faith, just like Peter’s call. And we will realize that Jesus is saying to each of us that you are rock and your faith is the foundation for the whole church, for our whole community.  And if we understand that and accept that and pray to God that we will be able to grow in this faith, then as a community we will really begin to carry out the work that Jesus came to do and transform this world into as close an image of the reign of God as possible.

     Pray for that gift of faith, today.  Pray that each of us can be a faithful disciple of Jesus, who can know Jesus as our friend and who also can proclaim, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

    In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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