21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 23, 2020
There’s a great quip attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt that goes something like this:
You wouldn’t worry so much about what other people think of you . . .
if you know how little they did.
When I become over concerned about the impression I leave, I take comfort in these words. They, you, care a lot less than I sometimes imagine. It doesn’t excuse rudeness or cavalier behavior, it just means I need to have a healthy, balanced self-awareness in order to just be me, and in order to relate well to you, and the world around me.
So let me ask you: was it arrogant and self-centered for Jesus to ask his questions? – Who do they think I am? Who do you think I am? -- Or does it reflect healthy self-awareness? I think the latter. I learned a bit about self-awareness from Kate McCormick and Mary Lynn Pierce last week at the annual Backyard Retreat.
On a bad self-awareness day, we become fixated on “why”. We spend the day asking ‘why’ questions: Why does this always happen to me? Why am I left out? Why can’t they see I’m struggling? On a bad day, we tend to whine our way through with ‘why’ questions.
Whereas on a good self-awareness day, we’re more likely to focus “what”. What must I do so this doesn’t happen to me again? What can I say to help them see my struggles? What’s going on here, over which I have no control? On a good day, we have enough perspective and self-esteem to ask ‘what’ questions.
And then, this is just my opinion, ‘what’ questions will lead us to healthy ‘who’ questions like: Who can I turn to for help? Who do I know who can really understand my struggle? Who do I want to emulate? Who do I think I am? Who do others think I am? Who do you say I am?
While ‘why’ questions give us only a moment of cathartic commiseration, these ‘who’ questions have lasting power, when asked with honesty and sincerity.
In our gospel today, Jesus is not asking why. He is not asking what. He is asking who. And in doing so, I believe he is calling his disciples, and us, into a higher level of self-awareness. And it’s only there that we can be fully and appropriately aware of others and their needs.
Jesus is calling us to the ‘who’ questions.
Now, let’s consider Peter’s response.
You know, I don’t think truer words have never been uttered than Jesus’ response: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” I say this because given what we know about Peter, I don’t think he had a clue about his profession of faith before the words came tumbling out of his mouth. Peter is a classic extrovert!
You know that some people are thinkers and others are talkers. Talkers will tell you just what’s on their minds, while thinkers will dwell. Talkers don’t care how it comes out, but just that it gets out. While thinkers, need to get it out and put it all down in an orderly, logical, sequence. That takes time, and inevitably means a lot of stuff never gets out.
Me? I’m a thinker, not a talker. Oh, I function well in most social settings and teaching/speaking situations, but when it’s important, when the message has to be just right, I have to go into the deep recesses of my cave, to darkness and quiet, to find just the right words. And by the time I do that, it’s almost always too late, someone else has found adequate words, and the world has moved on to the next problem. Happens to me over and over.
Peter, though, didn’t even know it was in his brain until it came out of his mouth, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And he nailed it . . . this time. Next week, his words will get him into trouble.
What about James or Nathaniel or any of the others? As introverts, they’re still thinking and formulating their response to Jesus’ deep and insightful question. They want to get it right. They want to demonstrate true wisdom. And, they want to avoid sounding foolish.
But Peter dives in and utters inspired words that earn him keys to kingdom . . . and a boatload of responsibility.
What’s more important here is for us to see how Peter, and all the disciples, and by extension us, are being called, beckoned into unique leadership.
Our first reading from Isaiah sets the stage. Isaiah recounts a “regime change” in the Israelite monarchy: The “master of the palace,” the king’s prime minister if you will, loses his position because of selfish and self-centered leadership, to be replaced by Eliakim, chosen by God for this task. His duty is to be “father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” In other words, his task is one of service to God’s people, and to serve in the manner in which a parent would provide for his family.
Likewise, Peter is called into leadership partly because he’s not afraid to proclaim his faith in Christ, right out load, for all to hear. A good leader, whether extrovert or introvert, is self-defined, knows where she stands and has the courage to proclaim that stance.
You may be sitting there thinking, I’m not a leader. Never have been. Never will. Really? At the very least you are a leader of one, you. And Jesus beckons you to lead a life that proclaims your faith, that focuses more on ‘what’ and ‘who’ questions than on ‘why,’ and engage in your relationships like a father, or a mother, or family member. In this way, your leadership will extend well beyond just you.
Whether you see yourself as a leader or not, as we enter into election season, I think we apply the same criteria to the leaders we choose:
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