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8/18/2005
WORD OF FAITH
Out of our control
REV. ROGER KARBAN


We Catholics are often so concerned with the power to bind and loose, which Jesus bestows on Peter in Sunday's well-known Gospel (Mt 16: 13-20), that we overlook how Matthew constructed the passage. He revolves his narratives around both Peter and Jesus recognizing something significant in each other.

Jesus begins the process by asking His disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"

They reply, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

Since none of these people or images corresponds to who Jesus actually is, He asks the question again, this time soliciting the opinion of those who know Him best: "But who do you say I am?"

Who Jesus is

Perceiving something in Jesus that other people don't notice, Simon Peter responds, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Outsiders hadn't been able to recognize such dimensions in Jesus' personality.

Because of the way Matthew normally uses Jesus' disciples - as "straight men" whose questions or statements are either completely wrong or so far off base that Jesus must correct them - Jesus quickly states that His heavenly Father has "revealed" this insight to Peter, otherwise the Gospel's original readers would presume Peter's evaluation of Jesus is inaccurate.

Immediately after Peter delivers his assessment, Jesus reciprocates by giving His appraisal of Peter. Playing on his nickname, "Rock," Jesus responds, "You are Rock and upon this rock I will build my church."

Just as Peter has faith enough in Jesus to notice what others overlook, so Jesus points out something that others overlook in Peter: a rock-solid faith. He has enough faith that Jesus gives him prerogatives and a position that most people thought a blue-collar fisherman could never fulfill.

That's why it's important to go to the first reading (Is 22: 15, 19-23). Although this liturgical passage doesn't get into the question of why Yahweh is thrusting Shebna from office and pulling him down from his station, the reason is significant: Shebna doesn't believe Yahweh alone is powerful enough to help Israel defeat their Assyrian enemies.

He wants his country to make a treaty with Egypt in order to achieve victory and peace. Isaiah, and all prophets, regard such treaties as nothing but an institutionalized lack of faith in Yahweh. Because Shebna lacks faith in Yahweh's power to keep His people free, his power is taken away and given to a person of faith, Eliakim.

Beyond us

Our sacred authors consistently teach that power, based on faith, only comes to those who recognize that God is completely beyond our control. Remember how Peter sees that quality in Jesus in the Gospel?

Paul couldn't express God's otherness better than in the second reading (Rom 11: 33-36). "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!" he writes, "How inscrutable are His judgments and how unsearchable His ways!"

Through the centuries, and especially during the biblical period, many thought that the purpose of religion was to provide us with the tools to control God. We're frequently taught to employ the proper protocol, the correct formulas, the appropriate rituals - all geared to force God to answer our prayers.

Our sacred writers constantly fight against such religions, referred to as "fertility cults" in the Hebrew Scriptures. Those whom we today regard as being divinely inspired give us glimpses of a God who is always beyond anyone's control or manipulation.

They also tell us that, once we acknowledge such a God working in our lives, we'll begin to notice dimensions of our own "otherness" that we hadn't experienced before - a power in ourselves that can come only from God.

(8/18/05)












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