Homilette for Thursday, August 7, 2008

Thursday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 16:13-23)

We have heard the central question of this gospel passage many times. Perhaps we remember Peter’s answer as if it were our telephone number. But can we appreciate its implications? “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Jesus asks. Of course, he is talking about himself, the Son of Man; that is, the human who does God’s work. The question asks, “What more is Jesus?” Peter gives the answer that we all know. He is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Now what does this mean?

Peter thinks that being the son of God, Jesus will not have to suffer. Like the son of a king will never be served a lousy meal, Jesus -- in Peter’s mind -- will never suffer at human hands. Perhaps we, like Peter, cringe at the thought of God’s son undergoing one of the cruelest forms of execution in history! But Jesus must suffer or he would not be doing God’s work. Through Jesus’ suffering God extends to every human the offer of salvation.

Humans experience salvation by recognizing Jesus as the one who died for them. This recognition is not a simple “I believe” if asked about Christ. No, it entails suffering with Jesus when we are called to it as all humans are and no human likes. But now we can accept suffering calmly. It is something like primitive humans’ controlling fire. For a long time, humans reeled from fire’s intensity and feared its power. But then they saw that they might use it for cooking, farming, and keeping warm. We do not look for suffering and pray that the suffering that comes our way is not beyond our strength. But we accept it knowing that endured in solidarity with Jesus, it gives rise to our salvation.