God's Word on Sunday: Faith must be genuine

  • August 25, 2023

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Aug. 27 (Isaiah 22:15, 19-23; Psalm 138; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20)

God would make an uncompromising and decisive HR manager. Shebna held a very influential and powerful post — master of the king’s household. Unfortunately, his performance was lacking and he was corrupt, arrogant and possibly treasonous. God’s word to him was simple and to the point: You’re fired!

God then named a successor — Eliakim — and announced that total authority would be transferred to him. He would control access to the king — a crucial role, for this gave him a great deal of power. Eliakim would also be the guardian of the kingdom’s resources. But most of all, this post would give him untold prestige and honour that would endure for generations.

This is a mysterious story, for we are not certain of Shebna’s career or life. It likely mirrors the power struggles within the royal court, the details of which are lost to us. How can the story guide or help us? Shebna had been given a position of great trust, which he callously violated. And it was a sacred trust, for it concerned the well-being of the people of God and God’s chosen king. Shebna violated this sacred trust, so God removed him.

God can lift up and exalt, and God can pull down — it’s that simple. It does not matter who the person is or who they think themselves to be. We are measured by divine standards of honesty, integrity, diligence and compassion. In our own time, we have seen many high and mighty fall, both in secular society and in the Church. No one is exempt; there are no free passes. Sacred trusts come in many roles, among them that of spouse, parent, co-worker, friend and ordinary human being. Most of these roles are less than spectacular and may not receive much glory and praise, at least in this life.

But we hold the keys to another sort of kingdom — the lives and futures of others. Let us not throw away our opportunity to glorify God and to bless others.

What is God up to? Many ask themselves that question, for it is often very difficult to discern the divine purpose in everyday events or the lives of others. Why do the wicked seem to prosper and the righteous suffer and struggle? Why are dictators and tyrants permitted to wreak havoc on the Earth?

There are no satisfying or pat answers, but there are some important principles to aid us in our journey. God works on the divine timetable, not ours. God has the big picture and all the twists and turns that history has to make to reach the goal. And God does not want to compromise human freedom of choice. God’s purpose is not to be identified with any person, group or ideology. There will be many setbacks and deviations in the flow of history.

There is so much that we do not know, but Paul assures us that God’s ways are deep, rich and wise. Keeping our faith, hope and love alive despite all that the world dishes out is the faith of Abraham and the faith of Jesus — and hopefully our faith too.

Jesus posed an interesting question to the Apostles. Who do people say that I am? What is the word on the street about me? One by one, the Apostles repeat what they have heard in the marketplaces and streets. Elijah, John the Baptist, Jeremiah, one of the prophets — there were probably even more responses. But He asked the question, “Who do you say that I am?” At first there was silence, and then Peter blurted out, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” This won him the gift of authority and trust, but not for giving the “correct” answer.

Peter’s response came from the depths of his heart and soul, just as ours should, rather than from the opinions of others. We cannot profess someone else’s faith or simply repeat what we have been told by others. It must be ours and we must own it in word and deed. God is not impressed with lip service — our faith must be heartfelt and lived out in concrete ways. God entrusts us with so much and in so many ways. We can hope and pray that we do not let God (and ourselves) down.