The Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
2017 – Cycle A
Isaiah 22:15, 19-23; Psalm 138; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20
Rocks are not the smartest things in creation, in fact, they can be downright dull lacking any luster. And if a rock gets rolling down a hill or in the wrong direction! Watch out! And once it is settled, it’s pretty much there to stay. There’s not a lot you can do to change a rock or get under its skin. There is a no nonsense quality about a rock. What you see is what you get. Rocks are straightforward.
Does this not give us some insight as to why Jesus called Simon, “Rocky” (not to be confused with the Sylvester Stallone character). Simon wasn’t the sharpest knife in the draw. And “Rocky” could be very impetuous as we saw in the Gospel two weeks ago when he cried out to Jesus to have him walk with him on the tempestuous waters. You know how that turned out. Rocks have never been good at floating. [See Matthew 14:22-3]
Simon often got on a roll about something. When faced with the possibility of Jesus’ suffering and death, “Rocky” reacted. “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” [See Matthew 16:21-23] Now after having just given Simon the keys to the kingdom of heaven, Jesus also gave him a little bit of hell, “Get behind me, Satan!” In the garden of Gethsemane Rocky draws a sword and violently strikes the servant of the high priest wounding him. Again, a touch of hell. “Rocky, put your sword into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup the Father gave me?” [See John 18: 10-11] The “rock” often seemed to be blocking the road Jesus needed to take. The suffering and death aspect of Jesus’ mission Simon never seemed to get. Is that why he got flustered and frightened when he made those three denials?
Once when Jesus was talking about forgiveness, Simon the Rock asked how many times you were supposed to forgive any one person – seven times, maybe? Seventy times seven times was just warming up as far as Jesus was concerned. Another time Rocky wanted to know what sort of deal people got if, like him, they left home and gave up everything to follow Jesus. Rocky was always questioning; always trying to get away with as little as possible. Now, as we know, rocks can be a little thick.
Like the “Neighborhood” Citi Double Cash Card commercials which state, “Wouldn’t it be great if everyone said what they meant?” One aspect of Simon the Rock’s personality we can be assure of is that unlike many of us, you got what you saw. Simon Peter, “Rocky” was straightforward, maybe too straightforward at times. But that might have been what Jesus loved the most about Rocky.
Was Jesus being playful; was he teasing Simon Peter when he called him, “Rock”? Or was Jesus simply being honest about who Simon Peter was as a person. And yet Jesus called Simon to follow him and…a fisherman became a fisher of men and women to the keeper of the keys who became a shepherd of people to a martyr, a witness for Jesus Christ.
Simon the Rock, Peter, is portrayed in the most human of terms among all of Jesus’ disciples in the Gospels. He is weak and impetuous, honest and straightforward, marked by his personal shortcomings, quirks and deep faith, and filled with adolescent bravado and good intentions. He was a hardworking fisherman, a brother, a husband, possibly a widower, a son-in-law who cared for his mother-in-law and a Jew who was trying to understand his God.
Simon the Rock should give each of us great solace. For are we not ourselves Simon Peter… weak and unthinking at times, honest, if not always so straightforward, marked by our personal shortcomings, quirks and sins, seeking out God in our lives and filled with good intentions not often realized? We are hardworking. We are spouses, parents, and siblings, widowed, married and single; all of us trying to understand our God. And like Simon Peter, either in spite of all that makes us up or maybe because of it Jesus has called you and me to follow him and feed lambs and sheep. I always think it has best been said by the liturgy in the previous translation of the Preface for Martyrs: “You, O God, choose the weak and make them strong in bearing witness to you through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”
You choose the weak.
You chose Simon, called “Rocky”.
You chose me. God chose you.
You chose every one of our sisters and brothers.
I wonder what nickname Jesus would give to you and me?
Gratia tibi. Phrases and idea taken from Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures, Harper & Row, 1979.