22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)



Matthew 16: 21-27                                                          September 3, 2017

“Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly (…) and then be killed and on the third day be raised.”

Every so often, people who come to confession, or for counseling, tell that they are angry at God; if they are young, because the relations with a fiancée are broken, their grades at school are poor, and the relations with parents are tense. If they are adults, probably they have been fired from their job, the husband-wife relationships have become weaken; and in both cases they need somebody to blame for, and they claim they have prayed and God has not listened to them. Some people, especially the self-righteous ones think that holy people never get angry, above all at God.

The Old Testament prophets are a good example that holy and being human go together, and that their relations, even with God, sometimes are under attack. Jeremiah´s life and vocation is a perfect model to explain this situation. His job was tough and he had to announce the exile to his people, and confront and reproach the corruption of their leaders, as we hear him saying in the first reading, “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me (…) the word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day.”

To understand both Jeremiah´s reaction to God and Peter´s feedback to Jesus´ announcement about his suffering and death, we need to be more human and less judgmental with them. Jeremiah felt and in fact was close to Yahweh, and according to him he had the right of reply. Peter, after all, had been chosen as the “Rock” of the Church, and the keys´ keeper. Peter did not mean to obstruct the plan of salvation Jesus had to fulfill; it was just that he did not understand it in its fullness. He could not believe that Jesus would need to suffer and die.

The other apostles and disciples knew that Peter was in charged, that his duty was to give strength and orientation to them. But the great difference was that he was not the Master, only his vicar, that is, his assistant, his “vice.” More than a rebuke, Jesus knew that Peter, like any human being needed to be reminded of his limits. And this is true for all Peter´s successors and church leaders. We honor and respect our pope, he is our shepherd, but he is only the Vicar of Christ.

I remember one of the many anecdotes of simplicity of the now Saint John XXIII. When he was newly elected pope, he met in the Vatican with a couple of hundreds of general superiors of congregations of women. One by one introduced themselves. “I am the mother general of the so and so sisters.” One said, “I am the Reverend Superior General of the Holy Spirit.” Pope John XXIII with his typical sense of humor answered, “Well, I am just the Vicar of Christ.”

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