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August 18, 2020
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August 18, 2020

21st Sunday in OT (A)

The inside job MATTHEW 15:21–28

By Jacqui-Theresa Leiba

The question Jesus puts to His disciples in today’s gospel is directed at you and me. “But you.  Who do you say I am?”. We see Jesus’ human, vulnerable side. He cares about the opinion of those close to Him.

Peter speaks up. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). Christ is not Jesus’ last name but His identity as the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus lauds Peter and tells him, “It was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but My Father in heaven” (Matt 16:17).

The Father has done something in Peter, such is the nature of conversion that brings conviction and transformation. It is an inside job.

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision … but born of God”  (Jn 1:12-13).

Peter has “received” Jesus and His teachings, not just by hearing and following instructions, but by opening his heart, mind and being to Jesus in self surrender.  This is what makes Peter “the rock” on which Christ will build His Church.

In His “I am”/“you are” statements, Jesus reveals more of His identity and the true identity of the Christian. In the Parable of the Vine and the Branches (Matt 15:5), He says,“…if you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing”.  Christians are apart from the vine in over-identifying with and worshipping false gods. Money and material possessions, titles and positions of authority, false pride, resentment, unforgiveness and more.  Life lacks lustre as the heart’s treasure becomes fool’s gold in pursuit of temporary happiness.

When awareness dawns that we are cut off, God’s ever-present grace waits at the door of the heart and we open anew. We return to regular personal prayer, attend Mass, receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and begin again. As our branch gets stronger, nourished by Christ, the fruit of faith matures, the winds that once battered us are lessened and sometimes even stilled.

Jesus says to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.” Peter has been given power and authority in Christ. What an amazing turn of events!

This should inspire hope in our hearts that our sometimes weak, fickle faith does not have the last word. Even being called “Satan”, by Jesus (Matt 16:23), did not faze Peter or diminish Jesus’ love and trust in him.

God’s mercy and forgiveness finds us where we are. We begin to build again, this time with a firmer intention of not my will but Thine be done.

St John of the Cross and the prayer associated with St Francis can help us with a practical exercise that could mimic binding.

St John said “where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love …” In a tense, negative situation we can take a prayerful step back, calm our thoughts with a few slow, deep breaths and visualise ourselves as branches imbedded in the vine of Christ as we put on love and put love.

In the St Francis prayer (“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…”), we allow God’s love to spill out in our actions at home and everywhere we go. We seek to bind hate and so to loose or sow love; to bind injury and sow pardon, to bind doubt and loose faith, bind despair and sow hope and so on.

When we do this for others, we do it to ourselves.  Our homes become sanctuaries and we become living temples. We know by heart, the strength of Christ in our weakness.

In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus gave strict orders not to tell anyone that He is the Christ. But everything is in God’s timing. With time, all would be revealed.

Examen:  Do you experience yourself as a branch of the vine who is Christ? If in doubt, pour out your heart before Him. (Psalm 62:8)

Jacqui-Theresa Leiba is a parishioner of St Patrick’s RC Church, Newtown, and a founding member of Prayer Rhythms for Change – a prayer and social action group at St Dominic’s RC Church, Morvant.