21st S. 2020: Peter, Not Shebna

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary time, August 23, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” St. Paul tells the Romans. Have you ever had a thought that you just knew wasn’t yours? Ever had an idea pop into your head almost from outside yourself? I have. It was nineteen years ago, I had left the Church and Christianity with it. As I sat on my couch in complete silence, I was sick to my stomach with loneliness–and I’m NEVER lonely! I called Chris, who was not home. I called Shawn, also not home, and I collapsed back on the couch and heard a voice inside of me, just as clear as can be, “I need God back in my life.” 

Just as soon as I thought that thought, I knew it wasn’t mine. I had never known God in that way, and yet I knew without a doubt it was the voice of God. As Jesus told Peter today, “Flesh and blood” had not revealed it to me, but my heavenly Father. Flesh and blood are the things of earth; things carnal, things natural and instinctual. And we are flesh, and we are of the earth, and we are natural–but we are more. We are of the Spirit, and of the kingdom of God, and we are super-natural.

I think in our life and throughout our day, we are quite divided. We focus on the flesh in our dealings at work and at the grocery store, when we vote, and pay our bills. And we also focus on the Spiritual life too, when we go to Mass, pray at night or over meals, tithe, and read Scripture. But this divided self is not healthy and undermines the body-soul unity that we proclaim in the Creed. Every earthly action should be guided by heavenly knowledge, wisdom, and strength.

I often see this division creep into the Church when ministries of the Church run their meetings in purely secular ways. These meetings do not begin and end with prayer, lack Christian courtesy and love, tend to follow “Roberts Rules of Order” instead of the prompting of the Holy Spirit and brotherly love. They forget that we use earthly things, money, land, bodies and buildings for the purpose of advancing the kingdom of God. Every decision made in the Church, and even our family and its resources, should answer the question, “To what degree does this action build up the kingdom of God?” 

This was Shebna’s problem in the first reading. He was put in a place of earthly authority but he did not rule as God rules. He did not seek and hear the voice of God as he worked in this life–and that’s a great danger for us too. Every part of our life is a gift from God, and we are therefore stewards of those gifts. Our work, our home, our family, our paycheck, our talents, and our authority are all to be used to give honor to God and advance his kingdom. And if they are given, then they also can be taken away. Just like Shebna, God will “thrust us from our office and pull us down from our station.” 

Of course, the opposite of Shebna, is Peter, in today’s Gospel. Jesus granted Peter great authority to govern Christ’s church on earth because Peter was open to hearing and being guided by Jesus’ heavenly father. Peter was not perfect, nor are we, but if we say, “yes” to God, receive his gifts gratefully, live and love joyfully, listen to his voice intently, and speak God’s truth boldly, we too will be given much authority. Firstly over our own life, then our family, our workplaces, community and world. That’s why we pray for both our spiritual and government leaders, that they, like Peter be guided by the Spirit of God. 

As we govern our lives and family, remember Shebna, remember Peter, and listen intently for God’s voice. Knowledge, wisdom, and wealth await us, if we would but just listen and obey.

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