I don’t think Peter was chosen by Jesus to lead the twelve because he was perfect. He was a sinner; and that was precisely what he said in reaction to Jesus on that day that Jesus called him and started teaching him to cast into the deep and his nets got filled with fish “Leave me Lord, I am a sinner.”
Did Jesus ever leave him? No. In today’s Gospel, Jesus reciprocates Peter’s Confession of faith. If I may paraphrase his reply to Peter’s answer to his question WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM, I think what Jesus meant was, “You have faith in me as the Christ, the Son of the Living God? I want you to know I also have faith in you as the Rock on which I will build my Church.”
In short, what made Peter into a pillar of the Church were not his natural qualities. What strengthened him was THE LORD’S FAITH IN HIM, despite his weakness. I hope you don’t get scandalized by that. I know that when we speak of faith, we think only of our faith in the Lord. But the Lord having faith is us? Yes. There is something almost covenantal about it. It seals a relationship: that for as long as we have faith in Jesus as Christ, sinners though we are, God will also have faith in us as the rock on which to build his Church.
We cannot go out in mission if we do not first of all journey inward, into the very foundation of what it means to be a disciple—namely, our response of love to the God who loved us first. What kind of man was Peter anyway? Let us come up with a brief character profile:
- Only two times do we hear of this fisherman fishing in the Gospels, in Luke 5 and John 21. In both instances, he catches nothing. He comes home with an empty boat.
- He rarely gets things right. Even when he does, a blooper always follows. For example he says “You are the Christ…” and he is correct. But later he tries to prevent Jesus from going to Jerusalem, and Jesus tells him: “Get behind me Satan!” From a foundational rock, he is suddenly being rebuked for being a stumbling block to Jesus. (Mark 8,33)
- He is supposed to be the seasoned fisherman of Capernaum, and yet he panics in a storm while the carpenter from Nazareth is sleeping soundly in the boat. (Matt. 8:24)
- He is supposed to be an expert swimmer, and yet he sinks in the water when he gets frightened by the waves. And Jesus again rebukes him for being a “man of little faith.” (Matt. 14:30)
- He is invited by Jesus to stay awake and keep watch with him. What happens? He falls asleep.
- He swears he would die for Jesus. But he ends up denying Jesus when confronted by a servant girl about his connection to Jesus.
- At the sea of Tiberias, when the beloved disciple shouts, IT IS THE LORD! he jumps into the water for shame.
- Can we really call Peter, rock, as Jesus did? Yes, he is the image of one who sank to the very ROCKBOTTOM. Having failed so many times, this man must have reached a point when he felt like a miserable failure. He went to the very rock bottom of the journey inward. At the very base stripped of all pretensions, he discovers his truest, purest self that is now ready to answer Christ’s invitation to LOVE. It is The LOVE of Christ that solidifies him into a foundational rock.
To be like Peter is to believe not just in our own confession of faith in Jesus as Christ, but also in Christ’s confession of faith in us, which alone can solidify us like rock. Only his love can transform our wretched humanity into an effective instrument of the kingdom of God, for binding and loosing. Jesus said to Peter, “Whatever you bind…whatever you loose…” Binding and loosing. Jesus must have taken the inspiration from what fishermen do to repair their nets: to bind the torn parts and to loosen up the tangled parts.
We commonly apply the binding and loosing to justice and mercy: binding as holding people accountable for their actions, and loosing as forgiving, setting free, liberating people from the chains of hatred and resentment. But the meaning of these imageries can go even beyond justice and mercy: binding as uniting, strengthening, making firm. Loosing as opening up, being inclusive, universal. These are two important qualities of mission in the Church. Pope Francis often reminds us that one always goes with the other. If we do binding and forget the loosing, we become self-referential, parochialistic and Churchy in the negative sense, having no relevance, impact or transformative influence on the world. But if we do loosing and forget the binding, we also can get lost in the world and lose our identity. Instead bringing about God’s kingdom in the world, we are seduced by worldly kingdoms . It has to be both.
On this day, it is good to be reminded that, every now and then that it is the Lord who builds his Church, not us. This reminds me of the Psalm that says, “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor.” And if we shift from the house to the boat imagery of the Church, we have to make sure it is the Lord who sets this boat on its proper course at all times and in all circumstances.
While he calls Peter characters who keep the Church united and founded on the solid rock of faith, he also calls other people like St. Paul and many other reformers and renewalists to push the Church out of her comfort zones into the peripheries, to be true to her outward mission to be salt of the earth and light of the world.
This is a homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan for August 23, 2020, 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
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