Readings: Acts 12:1-11; 2 Timothy 4:6-8.17-18
Gospel: Matthew 16:13-19
When I am reading the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Saint Paul and see the names of the big cities and business centres of that time - Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth and the like - I have spontaneously to think about Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Muscat. Why? At the time of the Apostles Peter and Paul there were considerable migrant populations to be found around the Mediterranean Sea as well as in the cities of the Middle East and even India. There were Jewish settlements and other people who for political or economic reasons had left their country and found a new home in the respective cities. Our situation has therefore some similarity with the one the disciples found when they started their mission.
Saint Paul was not successful in the snobbish intellectual Greek city of Athens but in the vicious migrants’ mix of Corinth and among the simple people of Ephesus. Paul refers to this situation in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing … When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Co 1:26 – 2:2 passim).
Once it happened in Corinth that Paul was particularly discouraged. In such a situation of distress, the Lord spoke to him in a vision during the night: “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you. No one will attack and harm you, for I have many people in this city” (Ac 18:9-10). I think that the Lord would say the same here in Abu Dhabi: “I have many people in this city.” Paul had not yet discovered them, but the Lord taught him.
For a disciple of the Lord the decisive question is not the visible success or a brilliant statistic. The follower of Christ stands or falls with his trust in the Lord. This is the reason why today’s feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul is so important. Remember the question Jesus is asking his disciples: “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” (Mt 8:26) Later Jesus will ask the same question to Peter alone whom he had put as the head of the disciples’ college: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Mt 14:31)
In the gospel we heard today there is no trace of doubt and little faith. Peter seems to be quite self-confident when he courageously professes: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). And Jesus is praising him although making him understand that “not flesh and blood has revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father” (Mt 16:17). Only under this condition he can entrust him a superhuman task: “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” (Mt 16:18). Despite this great promise the gospels remain very sober and honest regarding Peter.
Matthew shows us without any embellishment that Jesus entrusted with the responsibility of heading the Church a man who humanly speaking was very limited. We see that immediately after his installation in today’s gospel when Jesus speaks about his passion and death on the cross. Peter objects and wants to hinder Jesus on going his way. The reaction of Jesus is very harsh: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mt 16:23). Peter had painfully to learn what it really meant to follow Jesus and not his own will.
Saint Paul equally had to learn. He speaks openly in his letters about his weaknesses and limits. In 2 Co 12:7-9 we read: “That I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” It took him time until he could say: “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me” (2 Co 12:9b). He went even beyond: “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Co 12:10).
Dear Sisters and Brothers, Paul speaks not only about himself but about everyone who like he and Peter engaged completely with Jesus. We too experience that we do not always make a good impression. However, the only important thing is, that we put our full trust in the one who called us and to whom we confess in the same humble way as Simon Peter did: “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you” (Jo 21,17). If we do it consequently, our weaknesses with the grace of God will be converted into strengths and become a witness for the incredible power of God. Amen.
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