Peter is having a pretty good day today –he is able to clearly articulate what he believes about Jesus: “You are the Christ – the Son of the living God.”
What Peter will find out, if he doesn’t already know it – is that speaking those words and living those words – are two different things. We will have to look no further than next Sunday’s Gospel to find out that Peter cannot always put his beliefs into action.
There is a simple message to today’s Gospel – and that is once we place our faith in Jesus Christ – our lives HAVE TO BE different.
The Jesuit priest, Father Pedro Arrupe, who was once the superior general of the Jesuits once said:
“Nothing is more practical than falling in love with Christ in an absolute and final way. For what you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do in your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, what amazes you with joy and gratitude – so fall in love with Christ!”
Once we place our faith in Jesus Christ – our lives HAVE TO BE different. We should be more kind, and gentle, and accepting. . .
Which brings me to the story I want to share with you today. It’s a story which is not only good for the first weeks of school – remind our children of how they need to be kind –
but also a good reminder to us all – of just ONE WAY we can live out our faith in Jesus Christ.
[I then shared the following story]
Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
One morning, as we settled into our seats, the classroom door opened and the principal came in. She had a girl with her, and she said to is, This is Maya. Maya looked down at the floor. I think I heard her whisper: Hello.
We all stared at her. Her coat was open and the clothes beneath it looked old and ragged. Her shoes were spring shoes, not meant for the snow we were having. A strap on them had broken.
Our teacher, Ms. Albert said, Say good morning to our new student. But most of us were silent.
The only empty seat was next to me. That’s where our teacher put Maya. And on that first day, Maya turned and smiled. But I didn’t smile back. O moved my chair, myself and my books a little farther away from her. When she looked my way, I turned to the window and stared at the snow.
And every day after that, when Maya came into the classroom, I looked away and didn’t smile back.
My best friends that year were Kendra and Sophie. At lunchtime, we walked around the school yard, our fingers laced together, whispering secrets into each other’s ears.
One day, while we were near the slide, Maya came over to us. She held open her hand to show us the shiny jacks and tiny red ball she’d gotten for her birthday. It’s a high bouncer, she said. But none of us wanted to play:
So Maya played a game against herself.
That afternoon, when we got back into the classroom, Maya whispered to me, Bet you can’t guess who the new Jacks Champion of the World is.
Behind me, Andrew whispered, Chloe’s got a new friend. Chloe’s got a new friend.
She’s NOT my friend, I whispered back.
The weeks passed. Every day, we whispered about Maya, laughing at her clothes, her shoes, the strange food she brought for lunch.
Some days, Maya held out her hand to show us what she had brought to school – a deck of cards, pick up sticks, a small tattered doll.
Whenever she asked us to play, we said NO.
The days grew warmer and warmer. The pond thawed. Grass began growing where snow had once been.
One day, Maya came to school wearing a pretty dress and fancy shoes. But the shoes and the dress looked like they’d belonged to another girl before Maya.
I have a new name for her, Kendra whispered. Never New. Everything she has come from a secondhand store.
We all laughed. Maya stood by the fence. She was holding a jump rope but did not come over to us to ask if we wanted to play. After a while, she folded it double, rolled the ends around each hand and started jumping. She jumped around the whole school yard without stopping. She didn’t look up once. Just jumped, jumped, jumped.
The next day, Maya’s seat was empty. In class that morning we were talking about kindness.
Ms. Albert had brought a big bowl into class and filled it with water. We all gathered around her desk and watched her drop a small stone into it. Tiny waves rippled out, away from the stone. This is what kindness does, Ms. Albert said. Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.
Then Ms. Albert let us each drop a stone in as we told her what kind things we had done.
Joseph had held the door for his grandmother. Kendra helped change her baby brother’s diaper. Even mean old Andrew had done something. I carried teacher’s books up the stairs, he said. And Ms. Albert said it was true.
I stood there, holding Ms. Albert’s rock in my hand, silent. Even small things count, Ms. Albert said gently. But I couldn’t think of anything and passed the stone on.
Maya did not come to school the next day. Or the day after that. Each morning, I walked to school slowly, hoping this would be the day Maya returned and she’d look at me and smile. I promised myself this would be the day I smiled back. Each kindness, Ms. Albert had said, makes the whole world a little bit better.
But Maya’s seat remained empty. And one day, Ms. Albert announced to the class that Maya wouldn’t be coming back. Her family had to move away, Ms. Albert said. Then she told us to take out our notebooks, it was time for spelling.
That afternoon, I walked home alone. When I reached he pond, my throat filled with all the things I wished I would have said to Maya. Each kindness I had never shown.
I threw small stones into the pond, over and over. Watching the way the water rippled out and away. Out and away.
Like each kindness – done or not done. Like every girl somewhere – holding a small gift out to someone and that someone turning away from it.
I watched the water ripple as the sun set through the maples and the chance of a kindness with Maya becoming more and more forever gone.
[End of story]
Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world. And it either changes the world for the better or for worse.
Once we say, as did Peter: You are the Christ! The son of the living God. Jesus expects us to change the world for the better by what we say and do.
In today’s opening song, “Come, Christians, join to sing!” – we heard the words, “Loud praise to Christ our King.”
Later in the liturgy we will pray the Lord’s prayer together and will begin by saying, “Our Father.”
It’s hard to talk about the divine, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, without becoming a little possessive by using phrases such as OUR God, or MY Savior. . .
And if we use this sort of language only to claim familiarity with God -- while fully embracing the universality of God – the idea that the entire human family comprises God’s daughters and sons ---- then we are on solid ground.
But sadly, that is NOT always the case – not just in today’s modern times – but in ancient times as well – that possessiveness is meant to include some – while excluding others. . .
This is quite evident in the Gospel story from St. Matthew which we just heard proclaimed.
This is one of the stories that at least for me – can be hard to listen to. After all, Jesus says some pretty harsh things.
A Canaanite woman comes to ask Jesus to heal her daughter.
Now remember, when Joshua took over from Moses and led the Israelites into the land of milk and honey – that promised land already belonged to other people ---
the Canaanites – who from that day forward, became bitter enemies --- one group because someone took what was theirs and claimed it as their own, and the other group because someone was standing in the way of what God had led them to and promised them.
So -- at first Jesus ignores this woman . . . Then he says that he only came to save the lost sheep of Israel. And THEN he basically calls her a dog. All tough stuff --- so un-Christ-like.
Yet, what Jesus is doing--- is NOT saying what is in HIS heart. Rather he is saying and doing what his disciples and what all other Jewish people at the time would have thought.
Ignoring, dismissing, insulting – this is the common way Israelites, the Jews, would have treated Canaanites --- and, for full discloser -- certainly how Canaanites would have treated Jews. . . Theirs was a mutual disrespect and disregard. . .
The disciples were probably THRILLED with Jesus’ words and behavior. That is – until he turns the situation upside-down, as he so often does, by saying to this woman: “Oh woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
Wait a minute, the disciples would have thought. This is our God --- the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – not the God of these heathen Canaanites. . . Why should our God care about them—when we certainly don’t. . .
For many people in the ancient world, including those following after Jesus – their God or gods – were NOT the God of ALL --- NOT protective of ALL, NOT the friend of ALL. God is on our side – NOT theirs. . .