A Reading for Thursday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
“You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Matt 16:23)
If ever you are feeling like maybe you’re not a good enough follower of Christ, take a moment to consider Peter’s experience in today’s Gospel. In a relatively short time span, Jesus both names Peter the first pope and rebukes him as Satan. I can’t help but imagine what a roller coaster of emotions this must have been for Peter, how his confidence might have been built up and then crushed in a relatively short span of time.
Of course his story does not end with the rebuke, and Peter’s passionate yet imperfect way of following Christ continues as he denies Jesus (three times!) and yet finds himself among those locked in the upper room, afraid after Jesus’ death. Each time, Peter seems to see where he went wrong and tries to correct his path. He knows he is not perfect. He also knows he has to keep trying to be better. Tradition tells us that even though Peter died a martyr, he insisted on being crucified upside down, feeling unworthy to die as Christ did. The person chosen to lead the church was a very imperfect example of how to live the faith.
The person chosen to lead the church was a very imperfect example of how to live the faith.
On the other hand, maybe he was the perfect person. As specific as Peter’s story is to him (I will not be named pope anytime soon), I also find his life oddly relatable. Each of us has moments in our faith life when we feel like we are right where we’re supposed to be, and maybe, just maybe, God is calling on us to play a specific role that will help to build up the kingdom. And each of us also has moments when we deny Christ through our words or actions, when we get in the way of how the kingdom is meant to be unfolding, because it doesn’t line up with our own vision or desires. How many times do we, because of our own selfishness or stubbornness, become “an obstacle” to Christ? How easy is it to spend our days “thinking not as God does, but as human beings do”?
The good news is that, as today’s responsorial psalm tells us, God can create in us a clean heart, if only we ask—even if we have to ask quite often. The sacrament of confession can give us strength and a sense of renewal as each of us continues on our own imperfect faith journey knowing that “all, from least to greatest, shall know [the Lord]” and that God will “forgive [our] evildoing and remember [our] sin no more.”