21 Sunday A -Who do you say I am

Andrew Greeley: 
This story was intended for those followers of Jesus who were worried about the possibility of government persecutions, opposition from other religious groups, and the very slow (as it seemed) progress of Christianity.   
The story says that, as President Roosevelt said when he was inaugurated on 1933, the only thing to fear is fear itself, blind unreasoning terror that paralyzes our every action.   
While the story was told to reassure the very early Christians, it applies to us as much as it did to them. 

Once upon a time a group of young hikers were  wandering through dense woods. They were singing and having a grand time. As the sun begin to go down, some of them got worried. How are we going to get out of here, they wondered. Their leader, a young woman who was more familiar with the woods better than the others, said confidently don’t worry, I’ll get you out.  I know my way around out here. Well, then it got very cloudy, and there was lightening and thunder and the rain poured down. They ran for cover to an old broken down lean to. It rained for two hours.  

By the time it stopped, it was very dark. The sky was hidden behind clouds and there was no moon to peak out. Blair witch project, someone muttered. One of the girls screamed. One of the boys said there is an animal out there., a big animal and I can hear him. Another girl began to sob and cried out. I’ll never see my family again.  

Take my hand, said the girl who knew her way around. I know the path even in the dark. Well, they stumbled and bumbled through the forest, tripping on tree roots and bumping up against trees, and hearing all kinds of witch like noises. They all blamed their leader for getting them lost. Some said she was going in the wrong direction and threatened to start out on their own, but they were afraid to do that. Then they got very mean and nasty. Are we there yet they moaned like little kids in a car. They were about to break away from the leader. She said just a couple of more minutes.  
You know what happened?  

They stumbled out on the road and their SUV was right there.
From Fr. Tony Kadavil’s Collection: 
1.     What is in a name?
In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet says to Romeo, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." The Journal of the American Medical Association did a study on the names of people in the medical profession in the United States. Doctors’ names included: Needle, Probe, Lance, Ligate, Drill, Scope, Bolt, Pin, Croak and Klutz. On the up side, we find physicians named Fix, Cure, Heal, Brilliant, Able and Best. A vet’s name is Dr. Fish. There is an Episcopal priest in New York City named Donald Goodness. Do names make a difference? Can a person’s name determine his or her destiny? If you had the choice, would you pick Dr. Brilliant or Dr. Klutz? Many actors will take a stage name because their real name is considered unattractive, dull, or amusing for the wrong reason, or because it projects the wrong image, or is considered too “ethnic.” Today’s gospel describes how Jesus who gave Simon a new name Peter made him the bedrock foundation of his Church 
2.      "Suppose Jesus were to come here."
Without the 19th century essayist Charles Lamb, William Shakespeare would be “missing in action.” It was Mr. Lamb's essays that snatched the 17th century playwright from undeserved obscurity after he had been famous for Andy Warhol's fifteen minutes. One night Lamb and his guests were chatting about the Bard over Spanish port and Cuban cigars. "Supposing," one asked Lamb, "Shakespeare were to stroll into our dining room at this moment." The essayist replied, "We would raise a glass of port to the great man." "Supposing," asked another, "Jesus were to come here." Lamb answered, "We would all get down on our knees.” There is the essential difference between the Man from Nazareth and all other great people you can think of. The Christ is God and all others, no matter what their deeds, are but fools strutting on the stage for a brief time and then exit.” (Fr. Gilhooly) 
3.     Mount Rushmore National Memorial:
When one thinks of South Dakota, one thinks of Mount Rushmore. Carved into the mountainside by Gutzon Borglum are the heads of some of the great leaders of the United States. It's ironic that this monument is in the heart of an area sacred to the Lakota and Dakota people whose ancestors possessed the land centuries before George Washington's family came to America. Thousands of Americans visit Mount Rushmore each year. Many come away with flags, patriotic symbols and T- shirts reading, "God Bless America." Perhaps they feel a rush of pride and make resolutions to be better Americans in the future. Let us remember that Christians are part of the rock. Jesus built his Church on the rock of Peter as a reward for his great confession of faith in the divinity of Christ. The members of the Church are given a new face on the same rock, the face of Jesus, as they proclaim his love, mercy, forgiveness in their daily lives. 
4.     Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador,
assassinated in 1980 while defending Jesus, said eloquently: "Christianity is not a collection of truths to be believed or laws to be obeyed. Rather, Christianity is a person. Christianity is Christ." 
5.     "To draw out all his savings?"
A teacher was giving her students a lesson in logic. "Here is the situation," she said. "A man is standing up in a boat in the middle of a river, fishing. He loses his balance, falls in, and begins splashing and yelling for help. His wife in her riverside house hears the commotion, knows he can’t swim, and runs down to the bank. Why do you think she ran to the bank instead of calling for help?" A girl raised her hand and asked, "To draw out all his savings?" In today’s gospel, the disciples are faced with a similar situation – like being in class when the teacher asks a very important question. We want to seem intelligent so we blurt out an answer – not always the right one – but an answer nonetheless. In today’s gospel lesson Peter blurts out an answer that is theologically correct, inspired and amazing.  
6.     Fr. Herbert O’Driscoll uses a wonderful image to explain the structure of the Church.
His idea is to look at all of the last 20 centuries as rings of time, or as concentric circles of time. Today's Christians, in the 21st century, are in the outermost circle, farthest away from the center – which is a Cross. We are brought into the circle, into the faith, in large part because somewhere, somehow, someone in the circle just before ours took us by the hand and said, “Come,” and so drew us in. That is one very important reason why we are here. That person was able to do this for us because someone had taken him or her by the hand and had drawn that person in. And so it went, back through all the centuries until we reach the hands that had actually touched the mark of the nails. In this way, Christ builds his church. We constantly re-live this Gospel story. When we say to Jesus, “You are the Christ,” he says to each of us—“You, too, are Peter, you too, are a rock, and with you, also, I am building my church.” What happened to Peter continues to happen and actually includes us. 

7.     "But how did the other ear get burned?":
On Sunday morning a man showed up at church with both his ears terribly blistered, so his pastor asked, "WHAT happened to YOU?" "I was lying on the couch watching a ball game on TV while my wife was ironing nearby. I was totally engrossed in the game when she went out, leaving the iron near the phone. The phone rang, and keeping my eyes on the TV, I grabbed the hot iron and put it to my ear." "How dreadful," gasped the pastor. "But how did the other ear get burned?" "Well, you see, I'd no sooner hung up and the guy called back!" He just didn't get it. Lots of folks never get it, never understand how life really works, even at the simplest levels. That's why Jesus is pressing his followers — and us — so insistently in today’s Gospel: "Do you understand who I am," he asks, "and what my being here means for you?" (Msgr. Dennis Clarke)

Jesus and his disciples ventured into the District of Caesarea Philippi, an area about 25 miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee. The region had tremendous religious implications. The place was littered with the temples of the Syrian gods. Here also was the elaborate marble temple that had been erected by Herod the Great, father of the then ruling Herod Antipas. Here also was the influence of the Greek gods. Here also the worship of Caesar as a God himself. You might say that the world religions were on display in this town. It was with this scene in the background that Jesus chose to ask the most crucial questions of his ministry.

He looked at his disciples and in a moment of reflection said: "Who do men say that I am?" The disciples begin sharing with Jesus what they have heard from the people who have been following Jesus: Some say that you are Elijah; others say John the Baptist, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. It's always been this way, Jesus as seen by the masses is seen in so many different ways.

You can speak of Jesus as prophet, holy man, teacher, or spiritual leader, and few will object. But speak of Him as Son of God, divine, of the same nature as the Father, and people will line up to express their disapproval.

Who do people say he is? Who do you say he is? And what are we called to do? Let's take a look at the answers to these three questions... 
Sin is less something we succumb to or fall into than it is something we are seduced by. And the greatest seduction is pride. Pride is holy halitosis. Like all bad breath, you're the last person to know you have it. 

Last week in Zurich, the pride of a gold medal champion, a 3000 meter steeplechase runner, managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. French runner Mahidine Mekhissi, already a two time European champion, found himself in the final 100 meters of his race. He was well ahead of the rest of the pack. After a long backwards glance confirmed his apparent victory over the trailing field of runners, Mekhissi began to celebrate early. He stripped off his jersey. With the jersey went his identifying race number. He put the jersey and number in his mouth as he cavorted to the finish line, taunting his competitors with the pride of victory. 

Mekhissi's antics did not sit well with his colleagues. Or the race authorities. After multiple complaints were filed by the other competitors, Mekhissi was disqualified. He won. But he lost. He won the race. But he lost the game. Mekhissi was so proud of his prowess that he managed to turn a clear victory into a humiliating defeat. 

The line between pride as honor and pride as hubris is often a hair's breadth distance. The honors that come with personal accomplishments are worthy and welcome. Showcasing one's successes is a bit trickier. Proving one's skills and self-worth in action is one thing. Proclaiming in words one's worthiness to the world is another. 

Our reading for this morning is a portion of Paul's communication to a Gentile congregation in the heart of Rome... 
The Authority of the Church 

There is general agreement that the phrase "the gates of Hades" is poetic language for the power of death (see Isa. 38:10). What is meant is that the congregation of the new covenant will persist into the age to come despite all the efforts of the powers of darkness to destroy it. "The gates of Hades" may here represent a defensive posture: death will strive to hold in its prison house all who have entered its gates, but the Messiah's congregation will triumphantly storm the gates and rescue those destined for the life of the age to come. 

Douglas R.A. Hare, Interpretation: Matthew, John Knox Press,1993, p.191
Without the Struggle, There Are No Wings 

A family brought in two cocoons that were about to hatch. They watched as the first one began to open and the butterfly inside squeezed very slowly and painfully through a tiny hole that it chewed in one end of the cocoon. After lying exhausted for about ten minutes following its agonizing emergence, the butterfly finally flew out the open window on its beautiful new wings.

The family decided to help the second butterfly so that it would not have to go through such an excruciating ordeal. So, as it began to emerge, they carefully sliced open the cocoon with a razor blade, doing the equivalent of a Caesarean section. The second butterfly never did sprout wings, and in about ten minutes, instead of flying away, it quietly died.

The family asked a biologist friend to explain what had happened. The scientist said that the difficult struggle to emerge from the small hole actually pushes liquids from deep inside the butterfly's body cavity into tiny capillaries in the wings where they hardened to complete the healthy and beautiful adult butterfly. The lesson? WITHOUT THE STRUGGLE, THERE ARE NO WINGS.

Collected Sermons, David E. Leininger
The Triumph of Jesus 

In 1896, after fifteen centuries, Athens renewed the Olympic Games, thus fulfilling the dream of Baron Pierre de Coubertin of France. You can imagine how proud the Greeks were to host the first modern Olympics. You can also imagine how disappointed they were at their athletes' lack of success in event after event.

The last competition was the marathon. Greece's entrant was named Louis, a shepherd without competitive background. He'd trained alone in the hills near his flock. When the race started, Louis was far back in the pack of marathoners. But as the miles passed he moved up steadily. One by one the leaders began to falter. The Frenchman fell in agony. The hero from the United States had to quit the race. Soon, word reached the stadium that a lone runner was approaching the arena, and the emblem of Greece was on his chest! As the excitement grew, Prince George of Greece hurried to the stadium entrance where he met Louis and ran with him to the finish line.

In this sports tale we have something of the history of the human race. Most historical figures make their impact, achieve a measure of fame, books are written about them, but as the years go by they begin to fade. Less and less is written or spoken of their lives until they rest in relative obscurity.

With Jesus Christ, however, one finds quite an opposite phenomena! Christ started from way back in the pack. He was born in relative obscurity, never had many followers, commanded no army, erected no edifices, wrote no books. He died young, was buried in a borrowed grave, and you'd think he'd be quickly forgotten.

But, no! His reputation has grown so that today he is worshiped on every continent, has more followers than ever before, sixteen times has his picture been on the cover of Time magazine, and his sayings have been translated into more than 200 languages.

Stephen M. Crotts / George L. Murphy, Sermons For Sundays: After Pentecost (Middle Third): The Incomparable Christ, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
Call Him God 

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis addressed the inclination to say nice things about Jesus, but to stop short of calling him God. 

He wrote, "I am here trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic-on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg-or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any of that patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. Nor did he intend to." 

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, MacMillan, 1943, p. 55-56, with thanks to Paul Janke
 Public Notions of Jesus' Identity 

Some, said Peter, say that you are Elijah. Now why would people think that Jesus was the long deceased prophet Elijah. Elijah was, of course, a highly revered personality in the religious life of the Hebrews. His defeat of the 450 prophets of Baal on the top of Mt. Carmel was a story that was known even by the little children. It was a commonly held belief among the Hebrews that one day Elijah would return and that would mark the end of the world. In the very last passage in the Old Testament, in the Book of Malachi, we find these words: "Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes." 

Most of you have read Charles Schultz's comic strip Peanuts. One day we see that the television is on but there is no one in the room listening to it. The announcer is talking about a golf tournament that is in process. He says: Smith has to make this putt to win the championship. There will be no tomorrow." And just as he says, "There will be no tomorrow," in walks Lucy. She immediately goes into a panic and starts running around and yelling to the other children: The world is coming to an end. They just announced it on television. Her panic quickly spreads as we see all the peanuts kids as they go wildly screaming about. Finally in the last square we see all of the children huddled on top of Snoopy's doghouse waiting for the end of the world. And Charlie Brown finally speaks up with a puzzled voice: I thought that Elijah was supposed to come back first." 

Well Charlie Brown knew his Bible. Elijah was supposed to come back before the end time. When the disciples told Jesus that some people thought he was Elijah, they were expressing a common thought among the people that the end was very near. 

A Point of Reference 

The state highway department in Pennsylvania once set out to build a bridge working from both sides. When the workers reached the middle of the waterway, they found they were thirteen feet to one side of each other. Albert Steinberg, writing some time ago in the Saturday Evening Post, went on to explain that each crew of workmen had used its own reference point. No wonder they did not connect.

In that same article Steinberg tells about a small disc on the Meades Ranch in north central Kansas where the thirty-ninth parallel from the Atlantic to the Pacific crosses the ninety-eighth meridian running from Canada to the Rio Grande. The National Oceanic Survey, a small federal agency whose business it is to locate the exact positions of every point in the United States, uses the scientifically recognized reference point on the Meades Ranch. So far, no mistakes have been made, and none are expected. All ocean liners and commercial planes come under the survey. The government can build no dams or even launch a missile without this agency to tell it the exact location to the very inch. "Location by approximation," the article goes on to say, "can be costly and dangerous."

That's why there is so much chaos in our society today. Everyone's using their own reference point. What we need is a universal reference point so that we can say, "Here. Here is how the good life is lived."

For Christians there is such a reference point - and that is Jesus. What would Jesus do? That is the question that continually helps us in our quest for right living. Jesus not only revealed the character of God but he also patterned the ideal life for humanity. 

King Duncan, Collected Sermons,
 One Generation Away from Extinction
It has been pointed out that the Church is always one generation from extinction. If we don't spread the Gospel, it will be just one generation away from disappearing from the face of the earth. It's a compelling idea, isn't it? It enhances our sense of Christian responsibility. We need to get out there and work for the Gospel or the Church could fade into history.

Perhaps you have heard the old story about Jesus appearing in heaven just after his resurrection. Jesus is giving a progress report on all that has happened while he was on earth. Moses is there and he asks him, "Well Jesus, did you leave things in capable hands?" 

Jesus responds, "I did. I have left behind Mary and Martha and Peter and the other disciples."

Moses said, "What if they fail?"
Jesus said, "Well, I have established the Church and filled it with the Holy Spirit and they will carry on."

And Moses said, "What if they fail?"
Came the reply, "I have no other plan." 

There's a great tension there. God is at work here in our church but we've been given the keys of the Kingdom. We have work to do and Christ calls us to it. The prophet Micah put it this way: "do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with thy God." 

Brett Blair,
 People See Things Differently

 People see things differently all the time. For example, three people - a minister, an archaeologist, and a cowboy - were getting their first look at the Grand Canyon one day. The minister exclaimed, "Truly this is one of the glories of God!" The archaeologist commented, "What a wonder of nature this is!" And the cowboy said, "Can you imagine trying to find a lost steer in there?" People see things differently.

The Messianic hope of those in the Jewish community who held such a belief was that the Chosen One would reestablish the supremacy of Israel among the great nations of the world. The assumption was that this would be accomplished in a violent and vengeful manner, with the forceful overthrow and total destruction of the current ruling powers. But before this happened, the prophet Elijah would return to herald the coming of the Chosen One. As a result of these hopes, Jesus had to somehow communicate to his disciples and others who had such high hopes for him that what he was offering was something completely different from what they expected.