Viewing Humanity through the Eyes of Jesus
The Gospel for this year is the Gospel of Saint Matthew. It is the
Gospel which teaches us to look at humanity through the eyes of Jesus.
It acknowledges humanity as afflicted and weighed down with all manner
of burdens. Far from adding to humanity’s burden, Jesus comes to share
and lift them. Of all the gospels it is Matthew that has contributed
most to Christian identity and self-understanding. There is much
soul-searching regarding what it means to be Church today, so it is
fitting to look at the image of Church emerging from this Gospel. The
Church’s relationship to the wider world, steadily becoming more and
more complex and pluralistic, remains problematic and unsure. We find
ourselves a very burdened community – burdened from within by the weight
of our own sinfulness and institutional failure, burdened from outside
through sharing the common lot of human kind in a fearful and anxious
The Climactic Scene:
The Church Receives Her Mission
For a few moments I would like to share some thoughts with you
regarding the climactic scene of the entire gospel where the Church
receives from the risen Christ the instructions and assurances that will
define its identity and its mission until the end of time. Faith in
the resurrection is a matter of worship rather than analysis. It does
not exclude doubt. Matthew acknowledges that believers, like ourselves,
are caught between adoration and doubt. In this scene at the end of
Matthew’s gospel we are told that the disciples fall to the ground in
worship. Some, however, hesitated or doubted.
Weakness, Failure and the Central Command
Matthew’s acknowledgement of the persistence of weakness and failure
in the community runs right through the gospel. It is to such a
community that Jesus approaches and to whom he gives his great
commission. Jesus commissions the disciples to “go and make disciples
of all nations”. His own personal mission had been to Israel. Now,
following the partial success of that mission, the appeal is to be
extended through the members of the Church to the nations of the world.
In this worldwide mission we as disciples are commanded to do four
things: to go out, to make disciples of all the nations, to baptise, and to teach. The central command is that of making disciples; baptising and teaching are means to that end.
The Challenge and the Presence of Christ
These realities help to define and describe our priestly ministry.
We are all very conscious of the challenge facing us in this area.
However, if we separate the commission to make disciples, to baptise and
teach from the promise of assurance that the Lord will always be with
us in this work, then we run the risk of either of two temptations, one
that we would become arrogant in our ministry or, secondly, that we
would be so over-whelmed by the task facing us and the resources which
we have in terms of personnel, that we would become despondent.
believe that, keeping the commission and the re-assurance in close
relationship we will be enabled to face the challenge courageously and
with faith in Christ’s presence accompanying us.
Here the Church is assured that, to the end of time, it is to be the
instrument for the realisation of a divine presence in the nations of
the world. The account of Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry to
Israel told in the gospel is no simple record of something accomplished
in a special time that is now over. It is a key to the teaching and
healing ministry the risen Jesus continues in the Church on a worldwide
The Figure of Peter:
Rock and ‘skandalon’
It is within this context that we must locate our ordained ministry.
To help us to do so the figure of Peter in the Gospel of Matthew is
very informative. He is the one who confessed that Jesus is “The
Christ, the Son of the living God, to which Jesus responded with a
beatitude “blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah”. Peter, however, wanted a
Christ on his own terms and tried to prevent Jesus from going to
Jerusalem, a reaction which gained him the stern rebuke of Jesus – “get
behind me, Satan”. So the rock that was Peter was at that point
blocking the road that Jesus knew he had to take whether he or Peter or
anybody else wanted it that way or not. We see the irony in it all;
Peter the rock had become in Greek the skandalon, which was the little stone which would trip you up as you walk along.
Enthusiastic Disciple: “Feed my Sheep”
Peter was the one who enthusiastically promised to lay down his life
and follow Jesus no matter where he would lead. Yet he denied Jesus and
his own discipleship when the pressure came on from the servant girl.
Peter could have resorted to despair. Yet, because he repented he had a
future in Jesus’ plan.
On Ordination Day we too made promises. At times we are embarrassed
by the way in which we have failed to fulfil them and yet the Lord
persists with us as he did with Peter. He entrusts to us what he
entrusted to Peter: “feed my lambs, feed my sheep”.
Faith and Frailty
We witness in Peter what we experience in ourselves, namely a mixture
of faith and frailty which characterises Christian life in general and
Christian ministry in a particular way. Peter’s weakness and failure in
human terms is acknowledged by Jesus and transformed by Him so that
Jesus persists with an imperfect human instrument rather than dismisses
it and this is something that ought to inspire hope for us priests in
While we experience dismay and displacement in our
ministry yet we have the assurance that God is present with and for us.
We find ourselves in a culture that challenges our fundamental
beliefs. We can react in either of two ways. In response we can decide
to search for God with deeper faith as the exiles did in Babylon or we
can lose our courage as happened to Peter when he took the focus off
Christ when walking on the waters.
Prophecy and Priesthood
As we proclaim Christ’s gospel, prophecy and priesthood have
important roles to play. Prophecy has a critical function challenging
us to renew and be renewed. Priesthood on the other hand is about
constructing communities where faith is given tangible expression.
Without prophecy a society can become corrupt at the top. Without
Priesthood, it can erode from below. It can lose its structures of
family and community life within which the civic virtues are fostered
and encouraged. Prophecy makes headlines, priesthood rarely does. Both
are necessary. As ordained ministers we have a responsibility to help
people to lift their gaze beyond the pessimism of those who speak today
of “new dark ages” and enable them to discern a distant horizon of
hope. If we are to undertake that responsibility of guiding others
through the wilderness, pessimism would be an abdication of
responsibility on our part.
Holy Week: triumph of faith over doubt
What Jesus said and did during these days of Holy Week were said and
done in some of the deepest darkness ever known to humanity. They are
the most awe-inspiring proof that faith is stronger than any doubt and
that God has lit a flame in the human soul that no force on earth can