The following is the text of Deacon Pat Hessel’s homily at Holy Trinity Parish for the weekend of August 26-27, 2017 (the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time):
Whenever I book an airline ticket or a hotel on Expedia, I get an e-mail after I return, asking me what I thought of the flight or the hotel. Even when I take my car in for a service, I get a phone call or an e-mail from the dealership asking me how things went. And, of course, during election campaigns, we’re inundated by polls telling us what prospective voters think about the candidates. Are they trustworthy? Do they seem to be qualified? What do you think about their views on various political issues?
For the most part, these questions are asked so that people figure out if things need to change. A hotel that repeatedly gets poor reviews might look at their policies and procedures. A political candidate might try to clarify a position that’s unclear, or even abandon it if it’s unpopular.
Today Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” In other words: “Who do people say that I am?” And the disciples said that people thought he was the reincarnation of one of the prophets. And then he asked them directly: “But who do you say that I am?”
Why would he have asked these questions? He wasn’t selling hotel rooms or trying to get elected to some political office. Jesus wasn’t testing his popularity. He had no intention of changing his message based on what people thought of him. He couldn’t. His message was the unchangeable truth at the core of the universe. Creation was an act of love. We exist because God chose to share his love with us. Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of the living God, became a human person because God loves us. And we are to return love to God – directly to God – and by the way we love our neighbours.
I’m not sure Jesus was especially interested in who the people thought he was. But he was very interested in what the apostles thought. As we will hear in next week’s Gospel, Jesus’ next words to the apostles would reveal his impending suffering and death. His time on earth was limited, so Jesus had to know that the faith of the apostles was strong enough that they would be able to transmit the Gospel when he was no longer there. They had to know who he really was. He must have been very gratified – and relieved – when Peter, speaking for the apostles, said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responded, saying: “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”
And then he said that his Church – his abiding presence on earth – would be built on Peter and the apostles. We say in the Creed that we are the: “…one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” “Apostolic” means that the Church is founded on the apostles.
Jesus chose to build his Church on the foundation of Peter – a simple, uneducated man – a fallible person – one who showed himself to be weak when times became difficult. Throughout the history of our faith, God has worked through the weak so there could be no question about the source of any successes they accomplished. Think about Francis of Assisi, Bernadette of Lourdes, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Think about the simple virgin who bore the Son of God – humble people who accomplished great things by the grace of God.
And so, 2000 years later, this apostolic Church continues, despite attacks from without and within – despite the weaknesses of those chosen to lead us. And what about us? We sometimes think that we’re not worthy – not “qualified” to serve God and the Church. Despite our human frailty, God’s protection, guidance, and grace are unwavering. If we understand this, then we should never use our limitations and weakness as excuses for not committing ourselves to the service of God and others.
Now, if I were to send you an e-mail or call you on the phone, and ask you: “Who do you say that Jesus is?” And if it were a multiple-choice question, and one of the choices was: “Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah – the Son of the living God,” how many of you would choose that answer? When Peter said: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” he wasn’t saying that Jesus was just a really nice guy. He wasn’t trying to let Jesus know how popular he was. He was saying that Jesus was one who had profoundly changed his life. And in fact, Jesus would change the world.
When you responded to my question and said that you believed that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, did you understand that your answer meant that Jesus was one who could also change your life? Has Jesus changed your life? How can you tell?
In the second reading today, Saint Paul said: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord?” The closest thing we have to knowing “the mind of the Lord” is the Gospel – the story of Jesus – Jesus, the Son of the living God. Our highest calling is to be in communion with God, and we do this by imitating Jesus. If Jesus has truly changed our lives, then we will be living lives of love, not hate – compassion, not cynicism – courage, not fear – generosity, not selfishness or greed – joy, not self-indulgence – defense of the vulnerable, not their exploitation – a life that embraces reality, not a series of chemically altered states or computer-generated fantasies – a life of prayer, not mindless distractions.
And if we live our lives in communion with God – in imitation of Jesus – then when we meet him at the end of our days, Jesus will say to us: “Blessed are you. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. Welcome.”