Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (Proper 16), 2020.
The young Church that began in the Upper Room in Jerusalem after the Ascension of Jesus were people that knew Scripture (here of course I refer to what is called now the Old Testament). Within this first parish Church (with, as Saint Luke tells us, an average Sunday attendance of one hundred and twenty, souls, all of whom were apostles, both men and women alike), were people whose whole lives had been lived within the profoundly pervasive influence of religious life according to the Scriptures. Certainly not all or even many were Scripture experts—for being expert in the Sacred Page has always been a calling for a very few; important, but numerically small. I mean rather that the Upper Room apostles had heard the stories of Moses, of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob their whole lives; and likewise their parents and relatives, and all of their parents and relatives, as far back as anyone knew, potentially thousands of years. God, through Moses, parted the Red Sea—“heard it, maybe a thousand times!” they might have said if asked. The flood of Noah and the ark, same thing. And so many others stories in Scripture. These stories made up their imagination, made up their way of life, made up how they understand reality. It is impossible to overstate the deep-rooted effects of these stories every which way.
Another of these stories was water out of the rock, another of the stories of Moses. The people of Israel, having escaped debilitating slavery by extraordinary actions by God culminating with the Red Sea event, were thirsty, murmured against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” So, we are told, Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand the rod with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, that the people may drink.” And, we are told, Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah (which means “proof”) and Mer′ibah (which means “contention”, because of the faultfinding of the children of Israel, and because they put the Lord to the proof by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” It is a remarkable story, easy to remember, and inexhaustible for preaching and reflecting upon. And we see this reflected in the Psalms, which were the hymns of Jewish religion. Psalm 18 says, “My God, my rock in whom I put my trust.” God not only bring water out of the rock, but the rock is Him, and out of Him comes water. This is rich and formative of worldview. And that is precisely what happened century after century in Jewish religious life. And this formed the minds of the 120 Upper Room apostles like the story of the American revolution forms ours. Only much more so.
This is important to know as one considers the account of Saint Matthew of Jesus asking the disciples (and it appears here to be just the Twelve), “Who do men say that the Son of Man is?” They said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Clear proof that these disciples knew Scripture!) Then then, masterfully, Jesus refines the question, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter famously responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Peter recognizes, for this moment at least, not the humanity of Jesus (for everyone saw that, obviously); rather, in this moment Peter recognizes the divinity of Jesus. He, Peter proclaims, is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He is the anointed and chosen one (spoken of throughout the Scriptures) and the Son of the living God (the Son of the God of Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, and all the prophets). In other words, Peter sees, at least enough to proclaim it, that in some sense, Jesus is the Rock. And if this is true, then it was Jesus speaking to Moses, Jesus commanding Moses to strike the Rock (which is Jesus), and water for the Jews coming out of Him. Truly, Peter can easily intimate, out of Jesus comes living water—He is the Messiah.
So Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father Who is in heaven.” It was not seeing Jesus—what He looked like, what He sounded like, what He said and taught, none of this—it was not seeing Jesus that gave Peter this deep insight. It was only a revelation from the Father, given to Peter. It was only an apocalypse (for apocalypse is what “revelation” translates) from heaven that, at this for this moment, opened the eyes of Peter to reveal Christ transfigured in some sense so as to cause Peter to proclaim Him the Son of the living God.
And so we easily proclaim with Paul, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable are His ways!” And then, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” And let us, brothers and sisters, in celebrating with Paul our God and His gloriously profound mystery revealed only through Jesus Christ, be likewise thankful. Because seeing Jesus in person during His life provided no advantage to the Twelve and the 120 apostles, and seeing as we share with them the stories they knew and told themselves and proclaimed to the Church, about the words and deeds of Jesus, they (the young Church) are our contemporaries, the communion of the Saints means that living relationship with them, and together we are learning how to emulate the words of Peter given Him only by grace: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God: learning how to emulate them, and day by day, how to order our lives by them. Learning, with Peter and the apostles, how to live with the glorious revelation given unto us.