It’s old advice: “Never discuss religion or politics with friends.” Thomas Jefferson never took it. In fact, in April of 1800 he wrote a letter to a friend stating: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”
Here we are 220 years later and citizens once friendly with Jefferson’s memory have recently threatened to tear down statues dedicated to it in various cities. In our current environment, citizens don’t only worry about losing friends over political and religious beliefs, but their own livelihoods as well. A recent Cato national study found that nearly two-thirds—62%—of Americans surveyed said they feared offending others with their views. Even worse, nearly a third (32%) of employed Americans surveyed said they worried they’d lose their job if their political opinions became known. Apparently their fears are warranted, because a third of them said they’d be somewhat more likely to support the firing of people who donated to political candidates they hated. Talk about inscrutability!
This Sunday’s gospel reading (MT 16: 13-20) inspired the above observations. In it, Jesus asks his pollsters (disciples) for their findings on one question “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
“Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Then Jesus took his own poll:
“But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter replied:
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus not only didn’t fire Peter, he promoted him.
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church … I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”
But either Jesus feared the repercussions of Peter’s first-hand evidence getting out or he was biding his time for the hearsay it would spawn to become first-hand evidence for all—hence these strict instructions:
“Tell no one that I am the Christ.”
However, earlier in Matthew (MT 11: 2-6), John the Baptist –imprisoned for his own witnessing about the coming Savior—felt he needed his own proof. So he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question:
“Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
Jesus didn’t want John to rely on hearsay—so he reminded him of the facts:
“The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”
And simpletons like Peter can be entrusted with authority over the Church Jesus lived and died to establish, and a persecutor of that church like Paul can be trusted to devote his own life and death to ensure its survival. The real miracle is his Church’s survival into our current era where Christ’s followers living under the inscrutable dictates of despots in places like China and Russia must continue risking their lives to offer first-hand testimony of Jesus’s miracles at work in them.
Paul’s testimony to the Romans about the nature of that inscrutable but irresistible force we worship says it all (from Sunday’s second reading, ROM 11:33-36):
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord
or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given the Lord anything
that he may be repaid?
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
If only we could keep the inheritance of His inscrutability as a gift instead of punishing each other with the curse we’ve managed to make it.