ORDINARY 21 (A)
Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly father.
– Mt. 16: 17
Peter’s spiritual insight as to the true identity of Jesus is a crucial moment for their relationship. In this, he is speaking for all the apostles – a first example of the magisterium at work; but he clearly does not appreciate the full scope of what he is saying, for just a few verses later show him protesting the Lord’s assertion that He must suffer & die a horrible death in Jerusalem. They are not yet on the same page when it comes to understanding what the Messiah is all about.
We rarely grasp the full scope of what we are discerning at first. It requires pondering & meditating on what we have experienced, much like Mary toward the end of the nativity story. What can this mean? What does it mean for me? At least one of the reasons for our Lord’s prohibition against telling others what Peter has learned is that He knows they haven’t got it right yet. They would only be proliferating a distortion of the truth.
Jesus knows that pain & suffering are an inevitable part of His work, but that is something that Peter & the rest of us shy away from. I once had a clinical social worker come to my parish to do a workshop on marriage. When asked “Why are there so many divorces today?” he replied, “I blame it on the aspirin companies.” Everyone looked at each other as if to say, “What is he talking about?” He then said, “Through advertising, the aspirin companies have convinced us that pain is something abnormal in life, & that we should reach for the magic pill to instantly banish it. In marriage, the magic pill is divorce.” In other words, we don’t see pain & suffering as something to be squarely faced & worked through to the other side, but as something to be regarded as abnormal.
Peter’s answer to our Lord’s question is the pearl of great price that we have been groping & longing for. It represents a whole new life-vision of the kind described in an essay by M.P. Montague entitled “Twenty Minutes of Reality.” Montague was in a hospital, convalescing from surgery when he says,
“I saw into reality, & there was the ecstasy that is always there, but which we are entitled to perceive only on rare & fleeting occasions. I had undergone a certain amount of physical pain, & had suffered for a short time the most acute mental depression which it has ever been my misfortune to encounter. I had discovered a terrible secret, & the secret was that there was no God; or if there was one, He was indifferent to all human suffering. Yet here, in this everyday setting, & entirely unexpectedly, my eyes were opened, & for the first time in all my life I caught a glimpse of the ecstatic beauty of reality…. I saw no new thing but I saw all the usual things in a miraculous new light – in their true light. I saw the actual loveliness which is always there but which we rarely perceive; & I knew that every man, woman, bird & tree, every living thing before me, was extravagantly beautiful, & extravagantly important … it seemed as though before my very eyes I actually beheld the truth of Christ’s saying that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the knowledge of the Father in heaven. I slept & dreamed that life was duty, but waked to find that life was beauty.”
Peter may have gotten a glimpse of the pearl of great price, but he was still clueless as to what it meant, namely an inexpressible joy in the midst of pain & suffering that can only be achieved by working through that pain & suffering without trying to avoid it. It wasn’t until after the resurrection & Pentecost that he began to understand. When he did, it made all the difference for both him & the world. It can do so for us as well. AMEN!