Year A: 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Paul the mystic, conveys his sense of the mystery of the Divine. We do not possess that mystery – it possesses us.

A line of people wait to be blessed by Jesus
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Isaiah 22:19-23; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20

Whatever the exact historical context of the extract from Isaiah, this text underlines the fact that the ongoing relationship between God and humanity is always intended for all humanity via the individual. This is one definition of prophecy – the prophet speaks as the mouthpiece of God to his people.  Next, it is God who chooses and vests his chosen one with his loving authority. Nothing can be more secure: ‘I drive him like a peg into a firm place.’  Isaiah uses a customary striking image to illustrate his conviction that God so much desires the good of his people that he will go to extraordinary lengths to ensure his will.  His wish is made clear. ‘He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.’  Jesus, centuries later, recaptures the image of God as father and makes it even more redolent of what suffuses it here – God as loving Father (Abba) of humanity, in circles moving outwards, ever more embracing until they encompass the whole of humanity. 

Paul the mystic, tries to convey his sense of the mystery of the Divine.  His classic passage can be used to remind ourselves that even Christianity has not plumbed, with all the gifts of its revealed truths, the mysteries of God (MGFS 101) ‘Real dialogue begins when we encounter the irreducible ‘otherness’ of the other religion… to grasp at the fringes of God’s unsearchable mystery, His transcendent Otherness.’  Dialogue should make us exclaim with St Paul ‘the depth of the mystery of God.’  We do not possess that – it possesses us. Beyond all our dogmas lies our humble assertion, as St Paul so beautifully attests: ‘How rich are the depths of God – how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods – who could ever know the mind of the Lord?’  The Church can proclaim with confidence this incapacity to know as loudly as it proclaims what it can know.  Richard Rohr affirms that since the Reformation and the Enlightenment: “we became ashamed of our “not-knowing” and tried to fight our battles rationally. Much of Catholicism and most of Protestantism became highly cerebral. God (who is really Mystery) became something you perfectly observed, a service you attended, words you argued about, or worthiness you worked for. But God was never someone you surrendered to.” (Daily meditation: 1st Sept 2014).

Matthew records the time when (the tradition remembers exactly where it happened!) at Caesarea Philippi, the logic and inherent character of the Divine dialogue reaches its inevitable climax: the word of the dialogue, intuited by Isaiah, reflected on later by Paul in the necessary context of a conversation about identity between Jesus and Peter, is revealed to be a person – an individual man. Peter, as Matthew records it, is driven by his experience to reply to Jesus’ probing question: ‘who do you say I am?’ – ‘You are the Christ (the anointed one) the Son of the living God’.  Jesus sums up the whole of the previous centuries of the divine-human dialogue: ‘It is not flesh and blood (humanity) that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.’  The ages have come to their intended end. The Word has been acknowledged to be another human being. This must be one of the most pregnant conversations in the whole of human history. At Caesarea Philippi. No wonder Jesus is prompted to set Peter (like a peg driven firmly in rock) as the base of all those who can gather together to say: ‘The Word of God has become one of us!’  No wonder Paul can say: ‘How rich are the depths of God!’  We can say that the celebration of this ‘incarnation’ is the turning point of the universe, of the Divine-Human dialogue. After it, nothing is other than divine – we just need to catch up and catch on!