21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Sunday Church at Home
during lockdown in the Coronavirus Pandemic
The lay leader makes the sign of the cross, saying:
Leader: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
All reply: Amen
Leader: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
All reply: Blessed be God for ever
Leader: The innocent question Jesus puts to his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” quickly becomes personal: “But you, who do you say I am?” It’s a question that has haunted every generation, and it bothers us still. It’s a question that we want to shy away from and yet find alluring; it both threatens and promises.
Our lesser self is threatened by the decision it demands of us. We sense that we are being asked for a commitment. Our settled ways are in jeopardy. We might have to re-evaluate our beliefs and behaviours. We suspect that we may be called to let go of familiar things and venture into unknown territory.
For all that, the question attracts us. It has an air of adventure about it, the promise of discovery. That promise centres on the person of Jesus. We are drawn to him. We find him endlessly fascinating. Our better selves know that we will find his company exhilarating. With him we discover the depths of our humanity, in him we see the face of God.
LITURGY OF THE WORD
First Reading: Isaiah 22:19-23
Introduction to the reading: In Jerusalem eight centuries before Christ, God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah who is told to address a problem. The “master of the palace”- the equivalent of a secretary of state – was a man named Shebna. God says that he is to be demoted because he used this office for his own advantage. We will hear a description of the investiture of Shebna’s successor, Eliakim
A reading from the Book of Isaiah
Thus says the Lord to Shebna, who is over the household: I will thrust you from your office, and you will be cast down from your station. In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your belt on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him like a peg in a sure place, and he will become a throne of honour to his father’s house.”
The word of the Lord.
Responsorial psalm: Psalm 138:1-2a.2bcd-3.6 and 8bc
R/: O Lord, your merciful love is eternal; discard not the work of your hands.
I thank you, Lord, with all my heart;
you have heard the words of my mouth.
In the presence of the angels I praise you.
I bow down towards your holy temple.
I give thanks to your name
for your merciful love and your faithfulness.
You have exalted your name and your promise over all.
On the day I called, you answered me;
you increased the strength of my soul.
The Lord is high, yet he looks on the lowly,
and the haughty he knows from afar.
O Lord, your merciful love is eternal;
discard not the work of your hands.
R/: O Lord, your merciful love is eternal; discard not the work of your hands.
Second reading: Romans 11:33-36
Introduction to the reading: Today’s reading concludes a part of Paul’s letter to the Romans in which he agonizes over the fate of Jewish people who have not accepted Christ. Paul simply leaves the matter in God’s hands, and closes with a hymn that talks of the mysterious ways of Divine Providence. You will notice that the ending of this hymn is similar to the way we end every Eucharistic prayer.
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen.
The Word of the Lord.
You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
At that time: When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Reflection on the Readings
The leader reads the text prepared by the priest and leads the sharing.
Homily prepared by Fr Tshepo
Today, in the Gospel, we see a turning point in the ministry of Jesus.
As human beings, we often tend to compare ourselves to others, especially when it comes to our strengths: “I am better than X when it comes to this.” “I am much better than Y when it comes to that.” We always like to have some point of reference that will make it easy for others to see who we are.
In the Gospel, Jesus and his disciples arrive at the district of Caesarea Philippi. We have seen in the past few weeks how they have moved all the way from the south, all the way from the place of his own baptism, right up through the region of Samaria, through Galilee, and now he’s at the top of Palestine.
Why do I mention all this?
Because – it may seem strange that after they had journeyed with him, and have been in many places with him, and seen such large crowds of people following him – now Jesus suddenly stops and he says to his disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of man is?” Not only that, but he goes on to ask them: “But who do you say that I am?”
Let’s take a moment to appreciate this event. Let’s look at the scene, the context in which Jesus asks these questions. I would imagine that Jesus would have noted the disciples’ wonder at the great Caesarea Philippi. I would also imagine that Jesus heard the disciples sharing stories of what they had been told about Caesarea Philippi.
The city of Caesarea Philippi, also known as ancient Paneas, was situated way in the north about 48 kilometres past the Sea of Galilee, on the southern slope of the foot of Mount Hermon. The area was breath-takingly beautiful. It was a peculiarly remarkable place in its natural appearance with a sweeping view of the upper Jordan River Valley. It was very lush. It was teeming with life. This area has always been one of the main sources of the Jordan River. The ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, describes it as the chief source of the Jordan River. The ancient Canaanites had built there a sanctuary to the god Baal. The Greeks and the Romans had both built religious sanctuaries at a cave there. Inside this cave, known as the cave of Pan, was a seemingly bottomless pit with an unlimited quantity of water which made the Greeks and Romans marvel. The area produced a lush oasis of life and overlooked the very fertile northern portion of the Jordan River Valley.
This area that Jesus and his disciples were entering was the area that the first king of Israel (Jeroboam) led the northern kingdom of Israel into idolatry. This was also the same place where the Greeks and Romans received revelations from the god Pan who was mentioned in classical writings as a “seer” or fortune teller and a giver of revelations. So, besides its stunning beauty, Caesarea Philippi also had significant religious meaning not only for the ancient Israelites, but also for the Greeks and Romans.
It is here that Jesus chose to reveal to His disciples that He was the Christ, the Messiah. It is here that He also announced His approaching death in Jerusalem and the end of His earthly ministry and beginning of theirs.
Jesus had been with his disciples all this time. I imagine him hearing the disciples retelling the ancient Greek and Roman stories of the god Pan, and the religious stories they had heard of the bottomless water source in a cave, and how their own ancestors were led into idolatry there; and thinking to himself: In their minds, and in the minds of the people, am I just another great figure like Pan and the pagan gods?
To the minds of some people, Jesus was indeed a great figure like John the Baptist, or a great prophet like Elijah and Jeremiah. But the Christ, the Anointed One of God, the Messiah? This had not been quite clear to some people.
The Jesus turns to his disciples, who by now should know who He is… “Who do you say that I am?” The answers now are not as quick to come out their mouths. Surrounded by the great myths and tales of ancient pagan gods of Caesarea Philippi, each of the disciples must have then wondered: “who is this man, Jesus, really?”
And it was Simon Peter who replied: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But his answer is not even attributed to him. “My Father in heaven” has revealed this to you, Jesus tells him. Faith is indeed a gift from God. It is not a result of myths and tales. Neither is it a result of our own intellectual capacity. It is pure gift.
Today, we give thanks to God for the gift of our faith. In a moment we will profess this faith in the Creed. But, have we stopped to ask ourselves: “Who do I say Jesus is?” When I look at my Caesarea Philippi, whatever it may be, how does it compare with who Jesus is in my life? We are surrounded by all sorts of gods: money, wealth, pride, possessions, ego… Often, Jesus is numbered among them, in the same way as Jesus was numbered among the ancient prophets of Israel, and ancient gods of the Greeks and Romans. As I walk daily through my own Caesarea Philippi, who is Jesus for me?
“Who do you say that I am?”
And, of course, this is the main point, isn’t it?
It doesn’t really matter what Peter, James and John said about Jesus. We can recite the Creed till we’re blue in the face, the question still remains: “Who do you say that I am?” We can say: “Well, my mother said Jesus is this; or “I was taught at Catechism that Jesus is that,” but we’re not really answering the question that Jesus is asking.
He’s asking, “Who do you say that I am?”
You. Not what an ancient Creed says; not what people said two millennia ago; not what the great theologians Augustine and Thomas Aquinas say. Because Jesus, today, here and now, says the same thing to us as he did to the disciples long ago: “But who do you say that I am?”
I invite you today to reflect on this question which we often take for granted. Who is Jesus? Have I had a real encounter with Him, such that I can say I know Him? Let us also pray for the gift of faith, that the Father may reveal to us who Jesus is.
Jesus goes on to say to Peter that on him he will build the Church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. It’s over 200 years later, and His Church still stands. That may be, but in my heart, in my mind, in my life, does Jesus still stand, or have the gates of Hades prevailed against my faith?
To the pagan mind, the cave at Caesarea Philippi created a gate to the underworld, where fertility gods lived during the winter. They committed detestable acts to worship these false gods. The pagans of Jesus’ day commonly believed that their fertility gods lived in the underworld during the winter and returned to earth each spring. To the pagan mind, therefore, the cave and spring water at Caesarea Philippi created a gate to the underworld. They believed that their city was literally at the gates of the underworld, the gates of hell, if you will. Standing as they were at a literal “Gate of Hades,” they had to confront their faith in Jesus. And today, we too are invited to face our own Gates of Hades, the things that lead us astray, the things that threaten to prevail over our faith in Jesus. What might that be for me? We shouldn’t relax in the knowledge that the Gates of Hades will never prevail against the Church, because even though this is true, they may prevail over my individual faith. And so, you and I must constantly ask ourselves these difficult questions.
Let us pray today for a deepening of our faith in Jesus, for a personal encounter with Him. Let us also pray for the entire Church, that the Gates of Hades may indeed never prevail against her, and that each believer may stand fin in his or her faith, no matter what the challenges and difficulties surrounding us may be.
- Jesus asked the disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” Who is Jesus for me?
- What may my Caesarea Philippi be? – that area of my life that tends to compete with Jesus?
- The Gates of Hades may never prevail against the Church: but, examining my faith, what have my life situations let loose in my life, that makes belief in God difficult?
Prayer of the Faithful
Leader: Knowing that we all belong to the family of God, we confidently bring before our Lord all our needs, and the needs of the entire Church and world.
- We pray for our Holy Father Pope Francis, the successor of Saint Peter: (pause) that he may use the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven to strengthen us, his brothers and sisters, in the faith.
Lord, hear us.
- We pray for our Church: (pause) that she may be a living and true reflection of the light of Christ, a beacon of goodness to the world and a welcoming refuge for the poor, the hungry and those who seek to be comforted.
Lord, hear us.
- We pray for those who those who hold public office: (pause) that, at this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, God may inspire them to work tirelessly for the good for all.
Lord, hear us.
- We pray for our parish community: (pause) that we may recognise Christ as our Lord and God, and also as a friend who loves us all.
Lord, hear us.
- We pray for the deepening of our faith: (pause) that God may grant us wisdom and grace, that we too can share in the faith of Peter and recognise Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, and share our faith with others.
Lord, hear us.
- We pray for parents to become faith leaders at home: (pause) that the Lord may equip them to nurture the spiritual development of their children, and to guide their family towards service to the community and faith in Jesus.
Lord hear us.
- We pray for the children of our parish: (pause) that they may actively participate in the church and find inspiration in Jesus.
Lord hear us.
- We pray for members of our families and friends who have died and those whose anniversaries occur about this time, especially for: Jean Dodds, Jesse Janniker, Alfred de Freitas, Allan Reddy and Errol and Gwen McCauley. LORD HEAR US
- We pray for Joe Fox who passed away during the week. Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord.
All: And let perpetual light shine on him. May he rest in peace. Amen.
Leader: Let us pray for the gift of faith:
O my God,
I firmly believe that you are one God in three divine persons,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I believe that your divine Son became human
and died for our sins,
and that he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe these and all the truths which the holy catholic Church teaches,
because in revealing them you can neither deceive nor be deceived.
Thanks be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given to me;
Thank you for the gift of faith.
O most merciful Jesus,
grant that I may see you more clearly,
love you more dearly
and follow you more nearly.
My Lord, in silence and prayer I feel your presence.
Yet I often forget you and lose sight of you.
I know you and trust you;
yet I often get distracted and fall.
Remove all obstacles
that stand in the way of my faith in you,
And grant that I may stand firm in my faith in you always.
We make our prayers in the name of Jesus, the Lord.
We can unite ourselves to the Eucharist through making a spiritual Communion.
By making an Act of Spiritual Communion, we express our faith in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and ask him to unite himself with us.
I believe you are really here in the Blessed Sacrament.
I love you more than anything in the world, and I hunger to receive you.
But since I cannot receive Communion at this moment,
feed my soul at least spiritually.
I unite myself to you now as I do when I actually receive you.
Leader: Let us pray to the Father in the words Jesus our Saviour gave us:
All say: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
Leader: Living God,
you sent your Son among us
to reveal your wisdom
and make known your ways.
Increase our faith,
that we may confess Jesus as your Son,
take up his work on earth,
and trust his promise to sustain the Church.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
A leader who is a layperson, using no gesture, says:
Leader: May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life.