21st Sunday Year – A

Is 22:19-23; Rom 11: 33-36; Mt 16:13-20


John XXIII was pope during the turbulent 1960s when it seemed that everything was falling apart. The priesthood was in crisis, religious life was in crisis, marriage was in crisis, faith was in crisis, the church was in crisis. The pope worked long and hard hours trying to address these problems. One evening, after an exhausting day in the office, he went to his private chapel to do his daily Holy Hour before retiring but he was too exhausted and too stressed out to focus or pray. After a few minutes of futile effort, he got up and said, “Lord, the church belongs to you. I am going to bed.” Difficulties might have driven the Pope to acknowledge that the church belongs to Christ. But Jesus himself said it 2000 years ago:

You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).

This passage is crucial for a proper understanding of what the church is, and our role in the church. For this is the most explicit statement that Jesus makes in the Gospels about the church.

Firstly, it tells us that Jesus is the owner of the church. Neither Peter nor the disciples owns the church. Pastors and church leaders who think and act as if they own the church are like farm workers who go about posing as if the farm belongs to them. All God’s people have been called together as co-workers in Christ’s vineyard, though some work as foremen overseeing others. But we do not own the church. We belong to the church. The owner of the church is Christ.

Secondly, the passage tells us that Jesus is the one who builds his church. He is the master builder who has the building plan in his hands. Human co-operators are like masons and carpenters employed by the master builder to help him with the building. Our role is to listen and follow his instructions, doing our own small part in the grand design of the master. Workers who stick to their own ideas of what the building should be rather than follow the directives given by the master may find themselves working at cross purposes with the master.

If Jesus is the owner and builder of the church, where then do we come in? We come in precisely where Peter comes in. Together with Peter we are the building blocks of the church. Peter is the foundation rock and we are the pieces of stones with which the church is built:

Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5).

The passive voice “let yourselves be built” indicates that God himself is the builder and not us. Our role is to allow God to use us. The question we could ask ourselves today is: “How is God using me to build up his church? Am I letting God use me?” We must not forget that no matter how small a piece of stone may be, the master builder could still use it to do something beautiful.

A famous stained-glass artist was commissioned to make a huge portrait for the window of the cathedral in Chartres, France. First he laid all of the pieces he was going to use out on the floor of the cathedral. Among these awesome pieces of glass was a small, clear piece about as big as a fingernail. As the stained-glass portrait was assembled, that little piece remained on the floor. Only the big colorful pieces were used. On the day of the window’s completion the entire city gathered to witness the unveiling of the portrait. The artist pulled away the cover cloth and the crowd gasped at the beauty of the colorful window glowing in the sunlight. After a few seconds, however, the crowd grew silent. They sensed that something was missing, that the portrait was unfinished. The great artist then walked over to where the little clear piece of glass lay, picked it up, and placed it in the portrait, right in the centre of Jesus’ eye. As the sun hit that little piece, it gave off a dazzling sparkle. The work of art is now complete. Without the small piece the work was incomplete. In the grand design of building the church of God, each one of us could consider ourselves to be that small piece of glass – so small and yet so indispensable.