In the modern, rather individualistic world in which we live, there is a temptation to believe that what we have, we have earned, a result of my own hard work or that of others, such as a family. But today’ gospel is a reminder that all we have is from God. As such, we should not be hoarders of God’s good gifts. Even money itself should not be thought of as ours. Let us die to the notion of possessions, what is mine versus yours, and let us instead engage in a lifestyle of discipleship that shares what we have with the least among us.
In a gospel story filled with such violence, it might be easy to forget we are dealing with a merciful God! As indicated in several parables, Matthew’s church had the wisdom and experience to have learned that there were some in the church who did not belong. There are weeds within the wheat. Sadly, our modern experience reflects this too. Simply being in the church does not make one holy, God’s chosen, or a paragon of virtue. Only God has the authority to externally expel such a person. The sobering reminder that “many are invited but few are chosen” should cause us to pause, reflect and reexamine our lives.
Some of Jesus’ parables are a little dense when it comes to understanding the message hidden within them. But today’s parable is very clearly a judgment against the people of Israel and their religious leaders for not recognizing that Jesus comes from God. Sometimes our own agendas can bind us from recognizing the word of the Lord right in our midst. We set our hearts on a personal goal or way of doing things. Jesus reminds us that we always need to leave room for the ways of God.
Have you ever met a flatterer, or people pleaser? One who says what you want to hear but has no intention of following through? Or one who over-promises and under-delivers? It can be challenging to hear the words of Jesus in the parable today about such behaviors. Despite our best intentions, it is our actions that truly mean more than our words. There are many reason why we might over-promise, but we are reminded of another saying in the gospels, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’ ” (Matt 5:37). This is simply good advice from Jesus the teacher.
When we see acts of generosity, it can be natural to expect that we might receive some of that generosity as well. It might sound strange to hear it said that someone is generous with one group and not another. And such is the seeming riddle of today’s parable. God is a just and generous giver. When we receive what we have from God, there is no room for complaint, jealousy, or envy. Let us die to our own sense of who is just and worthy in God’s sight and leave room to be surprised by his generosity.
Grudges are awful things. But today’s gospel calls us to a higher standard. The forgiveness we’ve experienced should motivate us to be free with forgiveness when others wrong us. We cannot dole out forgiveness in infinitesimal pieces only to those we deem worthy. Instead, forgiveness ought to be given freely. We must die to the grudges, slights, rudeness, and other transgressions we’ve suffered and rise to a sense of freedom that comes through forgiving as we’ve been forgiven. Jesus himself warns us that if we withhold forgiveness, it will be withheld from us. And the consequences of that are severe indeed.
Wouldn’t life be so much better if we could all live in peace and happiness? But relationships are not like that. Even the most secure and safe nuclear families – individuals raised in the same household, for whom love may be given – have challenges with one another. The church is the same. In the face of this, Matthew gives us some practical steps to follow. Only when we experience the new life of the resurrection will every tear be wiped away, and relationships restored. Until that time, we doe the best we can, motivated by love and guided by the wisdom of Christ.
Today’s reading presents another interesting conversation between Jesus and Peter. Not only is Peter unwilling to go to Jerusalem where suffering awaits, he doesn’t want Jesus to go either. Jesus has already said that he will endure suffering and death, and now he is prepared to undergo his fate. This encounter with Peter allows him to teach us what it takes to follow him and what it means for our salvation. Taking up our cross may not lead to the kind of death and suffering that Jesus endured, but it does mean that whatever our cross might be, it will be the way to gain eternal life with Jesus.
The Church has long regarded this passage as the foundational moment for the establishment of the ministry of the pope as head of the Church. The symbol of keys appears in the papal crest, the sign both of governance and of leadership that is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ. Peter, the rock, symbolizes that the human community that is the Church, rests on the permanence of its divine foundation. Although Jesus commissions Peter to a ministry of reconciliation, that same mandate is given to all his disciples. The strength of the Church depends on a communion of love, justice, and mercy.
The encounters between Jesus and Peter are always intriguing. Peter’s humanness appeals to us. In today’s story, he wants to walk on the water like Jesus, but loses his nerve and begins to sink. There may be something of Peter in each of us. Deep in our heart we want to follow the Lord, yet there are moments when we vacillate and wonder if we can believe everything the Lord teaches and everything he asks of us. In those moments we can lose our nerve, or renew our faith and cry out, “Lord, save me.” And he always does.