August 23, 2020 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Fr Andy Upah

Reading 1 IS 22:19-23

Thus says the LORD to Shebna, master of the palace:
“I will thrust you from your office
and pull you down from your station.
On that day I will summon my servant
Eliakim, son of Hilkiah;
I will clothe him with your robe,
and gird him with your sash,
and give over to him your authority.
He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,
and to the house of Judah.
I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder;
when he opens, no one shall shut
when he shuts, no one shall open.
I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot,
to be a place of honor for his family.”

Responsorial Psalm  PS 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8

R. (8bc) Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands.
I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth;
in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise;
I will worship at your holy temple.
R. Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands.
I will give thanks to your name,
because of your kindness and your truth:
When I called, you answered me;
you built up strength within me.
R. Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands.
The LORD is exalted, yet the lowly he sees,
and the proud he knows from afar.
Your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.
R. Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands.


Reading II   ROM 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! 
How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord
or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given the Lord anything
that he may be repaid?

For from him and through him and for him are all things. 
To him be glory forever. Amen.

Alleluia  MT 16:18

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  MT 16:13-20

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Then he strictly ordered his disciples
to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Homily for KDTH Radio Mass on Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time 8/23/2020

IS 22:19-23; PS 138; ROM 11:33-36; MT 16:13-20

Today’s Gospel presents one of the most important questions that anyone ever had to answer. Jesus said to them, “Who do you say that I am?” This question was posed in the region of Caesarea Philippi.  You can still visit Caesarea Philippi today, it is pretty well preserved as a historical site.  

It is a beautiful area with a large stream that is fed from a smaller spring, and it sits at the base of Mount Hermon with a huge mountain wall face with lots of little shrines set up to the pagan god Pan and various other gods.

There were all sorts of pagan gods that people worshipped back then.  In addition to the pagan shrines, there was a cave there in which nobody could see the bottom, and it was filled with water, so people referred to this as “the gates of hell.” Gates of the netherworld.”  So you could say it was a very “religious” place.

It is in this setting that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”

There are lots of options around, plenty of pagan gods to choose from in this place, but they don’t choose one of them, although some of them say Jesus is one of the prophets reincarnated.  But Jesus forces the issue for his closest disciples.

Peter gives the right answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  

And it is the same in today’s culture, there are lots of answers that people give, they’ll say, Jesus was a nice man. Jesus was a great moral teacher.  Jesus was just one of the prophets. But to say He was the Christ, to say He was God!?

This is often the jumping off point for me, if someone wants to talk to me about religion, different religions, this is where I will ask, “well, who do you say that Jesus was?” Now, there are really only four answers that I find acceptable, He was Lord, He was a Liar, He was a Lunatic, or He was a  Legend.  

Lord, Liar, Lunatic or Legend. Only those four and I’ll explain why. 

First, let’s look at the Legend one - some people don’t think that Jesus even existed - but the problem is, many people wrote about Him, and not just Christians, Jews (Philo, Flavius Josephus) and Pagans (Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger) historians included Jesus in their historic commentaries from that time.  

There’s more data and evidence that He existed than a lot of other historical people that nobody ever questions.  But people question Jesus because it is too hard to believe He was God among us.  So “Legend” is off the table, unless of course people want to doubt every historical figure that ever existed.

Next is Lunatic.  You might think, wait Fr. Andy, what about all of those other ones you mentioned that people say, Jesus was a nice man, Jesus was a great moral teacher.  

Nice people don’t say ridiculous things like, “you must eat my body and drink my blood.”  Nice people do not say things that infuriate whole religious classes like the Pharisees and Sadducees. Nice people don’t get crucified.  

C.S. Lewis (in the book Mere Christianity) said “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. 

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. 

Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... 

Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.” End Quote.  That was C.S Lewis from the popular book Mere Christianity.

And Jesus never claimed to be just a teacher. Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, claimed to be teachers or prophets, they said, “follow this way that I have found.” 

But Jesus said follow me, He claimed he was God, He claimed He would rise from the dead, and He did.  So maybe since He said all of this crazy stuff someone could claim He was a lunatic, but I don’t think that is fair either, because everything He said came true.

After that is Liar, this whole thing is a lie.  Jesus was lying when He claimed to be God, and everyone after Him was lying to uphold His lie.

Here’s the thing, people don’t willingly die for a lie.  Well, some people might, think of Jihadists or Suicide Bombers, but they die violently. These men were different, they all ran away when Jesus was arrested, but now, after seeing Jesus risen from the dead, they gain courage, they are willing to die peacefully.

All of His apostles, except the beloved disciple John who never left His side, all of His first disciples all died, brutally tortured in most cases, executed for their belief that Jesus was Lord.

People just don’t die for a lie, at that moment, they’d stop the executioner and say “wait, I made it up, don’t filet my skin off while I am alive,” as happened to Bartholomew.  “Wait, it was all a lie, don’t crucify me,” as happened to both Peter and Andrew.

But no, not one of them retracted, saying it was a lie, so, I don’t think Jesus was a liar about his identity, and all of His disciples who had seen first hand weren’t lying either.

Really, I believe the only option that makes sense is that He was Lord, just like He said He was, and Peter said He was.

So that is a pretty trimmed down version of my argument for why I believe Jesus is God, drawing heavily from C.S. Lewis’s Lord, Liar, Lunatic trilemma but also just from history and reason.

But there is more here, more to this Gospel, because Jesus goes on to say to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.

For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.

And so I say to you, you are Peter,

and upon this rock I will build my church,

and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;

and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

So, at this point in the conversation, if I am feeling, you know, bold, I might say something to the effect of, “so you believe Jesus is God, what did Jesus come to earth to do?”

And there are a lot of answers there, probably starting with “to save us from our sins through his death and resurrection” but also, pretty clearly in this passage, He came to build His Church.

In this passage, He selects Peter as His Church’s leader.  As we saw in the first reading, God had the power and authority to select whomever he wanted as the leader of His Church, at any time, and this was His new selection, done symbolically by giving Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven.


So in the Catholic Church, we believe that Peter was our first leader, our spiritual father, our Papa, or Pope as it is known now, He was given the authority to run the Church and speak authoritatively on faith and morals, and He did, and the office of the Pope has, for 266 different Popes and 2,000 years, they all had that authority as given to them by Jesus.

We need someone that can speak authoritatively, who can make decisions and rulings and guide the Church forward, because there was really no way that Jesus could have covered everything, no way that all of the new technologies could have been accounted for and dealt with at that time.

It’s the same reason we have a commissioner for major league baseball, ya know, who has to decide now how to use all of this replay technology.  An authority that can say, this is the way we will do this.

Because, as I have said before, Jesus did not come here to leave us a book of rules and regulations to guide everything.  

But this Church that He put Peter in charge of helps us to stay in “right relationship” with Jesus and our neighbors, providing us the sacraments to encounter Him, and that is what is important.

And I could go a lot deeper into all the symbolism here, in fact, in his new book, Pope Peter - Defending the Church's Most Distinctive Doctrine in a Time of Crisis, Joe Heschmeyer spends two whole chapters on this one passage. 

I heard him on the radio the other day, and he gave another analogy about the Pope, because we often don’t like authority as Americans, but Joe said, think of the Pope more like a parent.  Like when we were children, we couldn’t wait until we were the parent and we would make the rules, right?  

But now that we are parents, we see how much work goes into it, how much work we have to do to provide for our kids, to take care for them and make sure everything is ready for the next day.

See, that is a better analogy for the Pope, who does have the title, the Servant of the Servants of God, he isn’t so much at the top as he is at the bottom, a servant leader who is working so very hard to protect the flock entrusted to him by Jesus Christ.

If this notion of the Pope is difficult for you or for someone you know, look for that new book that was just released in June, Pope Peter by Joe Heschmeyer if you’d like more details on the pope or on this passage.

This is a very important Gospel passage for not only Catholics but for all Christians, because if Jesus is the Christ, if He is God like He says He is, then we need to follow Him, and the best place to do that is in the Church that He gave His authority to, the Catholic Church.

So let us continue to focus on Jesus “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Let us turn to His Church, with His sacraments, to find strength, hope and peace.