Reflection on the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
For once in his life, Peter got it right. Peter is an interesting character study. He is impetuous, sometimes strong, sometimes weak, and in spite of his mistakes, sticks to Jesus like glue. Perhaps that is why Jesus chose him as the rock of his community. “And I say to you, you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.” Some of Jesus’ followers would probably not be inclined to describe Peter as rock solid, as confident enough or understanding enough to be a leader, but Jesus saw the strength and the loyalty in Peter that would make him a good choice. I’m sure no one was more surprised than Peter himself.
Jesus’ definition of church was not what we think of today. He was about building community not buildings; love one another, care for each other, support one another in times of hardship. Come together and remember me in the breaking of the bread. The first Christians were Judeo Christians, clinging to some Jewish traditions, celebrating feast days and religious events but also meeting together to celebrate and remember what Jesus had taught them and to break bread together in memory of him. They came together to welcome new members, they consoled those who had lost loved ones, they encouraged one another in the face of cruel and inhumane persecution.
They didn’t have churches or hierarchy. They didn’t have a lot of rules, only the rule of love. Jesus did not ordain anyone, he simply appointed Peter as their rock. Eventually they chose their own leaders and organized their own ways of serving the needs of the community. They shared money and food. Men and women were equal in status. The earliest Christians were all about community. The Holy Roman Empire succeeded in changing much of that with its insistence on rank and rule.
I grew up in a small farming community with the Reithers, Moffitts, Umblands, Millers, and so on. Some were Catholic, some were not. I don’t know if the others were churchgoers or not. It didn’t matter. These families were always available to give a helping hand during harvest, during hard times, whatever and whenever the need. At our monthly Saturday night Grange dances in the local school everyone danced with everyone else, no matter the age difference, and those who were not Catholic made sure refreshments were served before midnight so that the Catholics could go to Communion the next day. We didn’t call it that, but it was a true Christian community.
In the midst of so much violence, war, hate groups, racism, discrimination and climate upheaval, there are wonderful people from all faith or non-faith backgrounds. They are rescuing their neighbors from floods, donating food and clothes to those who have lost everything, checking on their elderly neighbors, driving people to appointments, visiting the sick, babysitting, teaching someone to read, comforting the dying and on and on. That is the church Jesus wanted and is still establishing on earth. It doesn’t need church buildings unless they can be adapted to the needs of the people. It is just people helping people with genuine care and concern.
In saying that, I don’t mean to put down the “official Church.” We have all had powerful, inspiring moments associated with the formal Church. Some people have also had some bad experiences, unfortunately. But the church Jesus established was simple: build community, gather in community and know I will be there with you, take care of each other. In other words, “Love one another as I have loved you.”