Homily (2) 21st Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael U. UdoekpoReadings: Isaiah 22:19-23; Ps 138:1-3, 6, 8; Rom 11:33-36 and Matthew 16:13-20
Our God is full of Surprises
Many of us do not like to be surprised, except with anniversary gifts! But our God is a God of surprises. To be surprised implies that we have surrendered at least some of our autonomy. It means events, wonders and amazements have taken place in which we have little or no control, but only to trust in God. Many of such events abound in our lives. In those moments, God is at work. He creates and recreates. He admonishes sinners and welcomes the repentant. He can make king and has the power too to bring kings down. He promotes and demotes. He changes sufferings into joy, failures into success, illness into good health, and death into life. This is true when we take a closer look into today’s Bible lessons, including Psalms 138.
First of all, in the first reading (Isa 22:19-23), there is a contrast drawn between two court officials during the time of Hezekiah known as Sheba and Eliakim. Shabna was irresponsible, faithless, abusive, unstable, pompous and selfish (Isa 22:1-18) hence demoted and disgraced out of office (v 19). God surprisingly replaces him with Eliakim, whom he call his servant (v 20). Eliakim is a father to the people (v 21), dependable and solid like a peg. What a surprise from Shebna to Eliakim!
During prayers we are challenged to believe in a God of surprises, who surprises us through others and through daily events and circumstances. Some of them may initially look ugly. But don’t lose the mystery of hope. Saint Paul reechoes this surprising nature of God in the second reading (Rom 11:33-36) when he says: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom, and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways.”
Similar elements of divine surprises occur in Matthew’s Gospel today. Who would have thought that the same would- be “Denying Peter,” during the Passion Week would surprisingly get the answer put by Christ, “who do people think that I am.” Surprisingly, ahead of other disciples, Peter got it. He professed Christ as the Son of the living God (matt 16:6). As a result and like Eliakim who was given the symbols of power, the keys of the house of David in the first reading (Isa 22:23), Peter is divinely entrusted with the keys of responsibilities: to lead, love, forgive and preach faith and hope. He is pastorally blessed and confirmed as the rock upon which Christ’s Church shall be built (vv.18-19).
Rocks, repeated metaphors in today's readings in rural African families are used for multiple purposes. They are used to crack or produce kernels (from palms) sold for economic livelihood of many families. Globally, they are used in most cultures for homes, offices’, road or bridge constructions to support and sustain nations and society. Of course, in another sense, bridges of unity, forgiveness, reconciliation, ecumenism, inter- religious or cultural dialogue and peace much needed today.
I know when we experience wars, threats of terrorism, tragedies, civil unrest and other forms of disorientation, we often succumb to the fallacy that God is not really interested in our affairs and concerns. We may feel that we are not persons, only numbers in a gigantic universe. Like Peter and his successors including Pope Francis, in particular, we are encouraged to trust in God. We are invited to be our neighbor’s rock of hope and support. We are called to be the rock and the pillars for our neighboring poor, the immigrants, the rejected, the homeless, the voiceless, the sick, the needy and the suffering of our generations.
Finally, Psalm 138, reminds us to be praiseful and thankful to our God who surprises us always with his love and protection. He loves us constantly and eternally, even in the midst of our earthly predicaments. And he invites us to do the same to one another, and to pray, rejoice, and marvel at his manifold gifts and blessings of surprises!