Year A -- Proper XVI

  • Psalm 138
  • Isaiah 51: 1-6
  • Romans 11: 33-36
  • Matthew 16: 13-20 The theme is "all things". Another theme is "knowing God".

    The psalm writer will give thanks to god "before the gods". Whether there is a relic of old polytheism is beside the point. We might think instead of thanking God alongside the angels -- as we do when we offer Morning Prayer alone. For C.S. Lewis, the pagan gods were imperfect images of different angels.

    Isaiah presents a striking sequence: then, now, and the distant future. We are reminded that we are made from the earth and from rocks. Possibly this is a bit of a fifth creation story; if so, it seems to have eluded the attentions of the creationists, and I doubt that anyone literally believed that God was telling His people to go look for the hole out of which they were dug.

    More important is the contrast between the restored Israel on this earth, with prosperity and military victory, and the distant disappearance of heaven and earth. Even at the moment of Israel's national triumph, we are reminded that this world is not our permanent home. Again, the "forever" theme begun in today's psalm.

    Paul, writing on God's unexplorability, seems to quote Job 41:11, the passage about Leviathan, in which Job and his uncharitable friends are told that only fools pretend to have figured out the answers to everything. Ironically, Job's comforters had told Job that God's ways are unknowable, then gone on to pretend to explain them.

    Among the denominations, the Episcopal church has probably done better than any other at being faithful to this scripture of Paul's, by leaving most questions without answers and subject to individual questioning and discovery. In our world, many people prefer easy, wrong answers to being told that God's ways are "past being found out."

    God's judgments are unsearchable (anexereuneta, ahn-ex-err-EYOO- nay-tah) and his ways (roads) are untraceable (anexichnaistoi, ahn-ex-ikh-NEE-ahss-toi). Paul describes God's ways as being unexplorable, but not really unknowable. Jesus gives Simon a nickname which stuck. "Cephas" in Hebrew is "Peter" in Greek, and of course means "rock", or as we'd say, "Rocky". This passage is the famous proof-text used by the Bishop of Rome to assert primacy as Peter's successor. The following passage, in which Jesus calls Peter "Satan" and "Scandal" ("Skandalon"), and says "You are not mindful of the things of God", could be a Protestant proof-text. Hopefully we can find more edifying topics for homilies today. Simon Peter's friends tried to figure out who Jesus was, and reached various answers. Peter realizes the truth and is told that "flesh and blood" did not reveal this, but God the Father did so. Although God's ways are past being found out by human reason, the revelation is Christ.

    Jesus is quoted as calling himself, in addressing Peter, "the Son of Man" (possibly in reference to the apocalyptic material in Daniel) while indicating at the same time that he is not known to be the Messiah / Son of God. The contrast "Son of Man", "Son of God" seems to be intended by the First Evangelist but I have never heard it discussed. I will leave to others the question of messianic titles, Jesus's messianic consciousness, and how much of this passage is historic. There's a story, probably apocryphal, about St. Augustine meeting a child on the seashore. The child had dug a hole into the sand and said he intended to drain the sea into it. Augustine told him this was impossible and absurd. The child, maybe the Christ Child, replied, "So is your attempt at systematic theology."

    Thomas Aquinas said, after his mystical experience, "Compared to what I know now, everything I wrote seems like a few pieces of straw."

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