Saturday, August 23, 2014

Choices

We are chosen. God does the choosing.

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16b) When Simon Peter first uttered these words as recorded in the Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke, they changed his life forever. However, rather than being able to take any credit for having said them, he was quickly reminded by Jesus that this “knowledge” had been given to him rather than acquired of his own accord. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” (Matthew 16:17b) In a few succinct words, Jesus tells Peter and he reminds us that we are not masters of our own fate. All that we do and say is really a matter of God acting through us.

Close attention to the details of all the readings for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time makes this exact point over and over again. The prophet Isaiah introduces us to the characters of Shebna and Eliakim, two men who appear rather frequently in the 2nd Book of Kings and whose experience fuels one of Isaiah’s oracles. Isaiah identifies Shebna as the master of the palace and Eliakim as a man who served under him. Yet a close inspection of the 2nd Book of Kings reveals that Eliakim serves as the master of the palace and Shebna as a mere scribe. Isaiah’s oracle tells us that Shebna had, in the vernacular of our world, “grown too big for his pants.” He had become haughty and arrogant and had started lording it over those who served the king under his direction. Isaiah tells us that God brought about a reversal and elevated Eliakim and demoted Shebna. Eliakim goes on to become a revered servant in the court of the king.

The Gospel message reiterates the lessons learned by Shebna and Eliakim. St. Peter was chosen by Jesus to be the rock on which the Church was built. However that choice was really made by God. Though St. John does not record this event in his Gospel, one line from his Gospel speaks volumes about this choice. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. (John 15:16)

Our lives are full of choices from the moment we rise in the morning until the moment we retire at night. Some of them are rather mundane such as deciding which breakfast cereal to eat or which pair of shoes to wear. Others can have much greater significance such as deciding to resist temptation and adhere to God’s commandments. We are fond of saying that good choices result in good consequences and vice versa. Yet fundamentally, we really make only one choice that really matters. We either choose, like Peter, to accept the faith in Jesus offered to us by God or we choose to ignore the influence of God in our lives. St. Augustine put it rather simply: “Love God, and do what you will.” If the first part of that statement is true, the rest will follow naturally.”

“St. Paul concludes the current discourse in the Letter to the Romans about the importance of the Chosen People in our salvation history with a rapturous song of praise, part of which comes directly from the Hebrew Scriptures. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! (Romans 11:33) We are somewhat used to St. Paul “boasting” about what he has accomplished through his faith in Jesus. These words make it very clear that St. Paul is fully aware of the fact that he is merely the instrument and that God is the one who has acted through him. These words are a very good way to summarize the experience of Shebna and Eliakim as well as the experience of Peter. As one young man in my Bible Study class said just yesterday, the readings for this Sunday all point to the fact that God is really in control. Amen.

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