Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
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.
Who are you? Normally you would give your name as an answer to this question. Apart from everything else that makes up your identity, the name that was given you marks a beginning, and it contains everything else about you as your life goes along. Day after day, until you die, and then ever after in the marvelous and mysterious experiences of judgment, purification, heavenly bliss, and the resurrection, your name constitutes the subject for every predicate that describes and delineates and narrates your own particular story.
In the understanding of the ancient Hebrews, a name expresses a nature that is fixed and eternal and even more, has genuine power in the world. Man and all the creatures to whom, on God’s command, he names, including his own companion Eve, experiences a given name as a summary evoking all the power and meaning of a life.
In baptism our individual name is linked forever to the name of Christ. John is a member of Christ, Mary is a member of Christ, and so James and Elizabeth and Samuel and Salome! They are all Christians, literally named after Christ. Thus we call the baptismal name, traditionally, our “Christian name.”
The sacred scriptures give a number of examples of God’s giving or changing the name of a person in order to give that person a particular powerful role in his work of revelation and salvation. Abraham, John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul, and Peter are the chief examples. Abraham is the one whose offspring we are by faith; we are literally the fulfillment of God’s promise to him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of heaven or the sands of the seashore. John is the one through whom the Gospel says that “all would believe,” and of course Jesus, with “the name above every other name” is so identified with his name that the scriptures tell us that we should do everything in his name, and that in the end all creation, in heaven, on earth, and in hell will bend the knee before this name of power and healing and consolation. Paul is the universal “vessel of election” to bring the name of Jesus to the gentiles.
Obviously, then, Peter’s renaming in today’s Gospel is very significant. He is the foundation stone of the Church. That is, his profession of faith, his own individual, imputable act of faith, is the beginning of the Church’s profession of faith through the ages. Jesus has prayed for Peter that his “faith may not fail.” He is, in his own words, along with us, the recipient of “great and precious promises.”
And yet I am not Abraham, or John, or Peter, or Jesus, or Paul. What about my name? Revelation gives us some hints as to the deepest identity of a few of God’s holy ones. But the fact is each and every one of us has a mysterious name, expressing our own meaning in the designs of God, even unknown to us here below, and to be revealed beyond this life.
Here what Jesus tells us in the second chapter of the Apocalypse:
To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it.
Yes, you are not Peter, the rock, but your name is inscribed on a little rock that is yours alone. After all we are all “living stones” making up the Church of Christ, as Paul tells us.
In our age, which is so taken up with questions of identity, it is a great and surpassingly consoling fact that we all have a hidden, mysterious, real, and powerful identity in the eternal plans of God. This life can be very obscure, and our lives may seem insignificant and even disappointing, but in God’s plan, as Jesus tells us, our names “are written in heaven.” My own individual life has a unique and irreplaceable role in God’s plan, a role which is meant to last forever in the glory of heaven.
Just profess your faith in Christ, tell him that he is the Son of the Living God, and then in the silence of your soul he will confirm your mysterious new name that you will only know in the world to come. Peter was only the first to receive a name carved in rock because he professed Christ the Son of the Living God, you and I and all the rest will follow. How great a destiny, something to look forward to!