My husband-the-deacon has been ordained for twenty-nine years and has preached homilies all the while. I have written this reflection for my parish bulletin for twenty-five of those years. In the process, Mike has occasionally run an idea past me. He’s also served as my part-time proof-reader. Still, we have never offered the same interpretation of a given week’s scriptures. While we’ve rarely disagreed on the focus of the passages, we have shared the wisdom we’ve drawn from them quite differently. This has been the case until today. When I read today’s gospel, I recalled a homily Mike preached at least a dozen years ago. Though I had no intention of echoing his sentiments in this reflection, I couldn’t shake the image of Mike walking back and forth in front of the altar as he spoke. After setting the scene, he suddenly stopped to say, “You! You are the Picard!” Let me explain…
My dear husband is an avid Star Trek fan. This began with the original television series and continued through Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Star Trek movies. Some years ago, after a rerun of The Next Generation, Mike announced, “There’s a good homily in that one!” Apparently, Mike filed that information away until months later when he read the same gospel we hear today in preparation for his preaching. He was very excited when he realized that would be the week he’d deliver his Star Trek-inspired homily. As for me, my thoughts and I headed in another direction as I ran up the stairs and sat at my keyboard to write. Though I can’t recall how I progressed that day, I can tell you that Mike had his homily fully prepared within a few hours. His only request of me was my opinion regarding the suitability of a Star Trek scenario for this purpose. After assuring him that this would be more than fine, I returned to my writing.
The following Sunday, Mike shared his love of Star Trek and Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s startling encounter with an alien race. Though the inhabitants of this planet in a distant galaxy looked human, they were quite primitive even by our 2017 standards. This was particularly troubling to Captain Picard and his crew. While exploring new worlds, they were bound by The Prime Directive which indicated that they must never interfere with the development of alien cultures. They were never to impose their own technological, scientific and other intellectual evolution upon people who had not yet discovered such things on their own. In this case, the aliens had witnessed the capabilities of the captain and his landing party before they realized what had happened. Much to their dismay, the crew’s arrival in bright lights and their seemingly magical powers closely resembled the “coming” of this people’s god as described in their holy writings. When the planet’s natives approached the good captain to offer their welcome, they dropped to their knees. Without hesitation, their leader announced, “You! You are the Picard!” The captain was beside himself because he had inadvertently violated The Prime Directive. Captain Picard was even more upset because he was being looked upon as a god, an extremely uncomfortable role for any of us. Fortunately, which is always the case in a Star Trek episode, everything ended well, as did Mike’s homily that weekend.
In today’s gospel (Matthew 16:13-20), Matthew chronicled a conversation between Jesus and his closest friends. Eventually, Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” Some responded with what they’d heard on the street, that Jesus may have been John the Baptizer or the prophet Elijah. While they were quite willing to repeat what had come from the lips of others, none would declare what was in his heart except Peter. “You are the Christ,” Simon Peter proclaimed, “the Son of the Living God.” When he acknowledged God’s presence, Peter changed everything. Suddenly, Peter was much more than the often-outspoken and sometimes-unthinking student of an itinerant rabbi. Suddenly, Peter’s life took on new meaning because of his close association with God. Though Peter failed to fully understand the logistics of that relationship, he certainly understood what it meant to have Jesus at his side.
Though Captain Picard flinched a bit at representing a god to those primitive people, he eventually found a way to use their acceptance of him to guide them onto the right path. In the end, he left their culture intact while leaving them a little better off than they were before they had met. Poor Peter quickly found himself in a similar predicament. He may have wondered, “I’m with the Christ! Now what am I to do?” The scriptures tell us that though Peter’s subsequent efforts weren’t always perfect, he was certainly instrumental in revealing God’s love to this world. It seems to me that our prime directive is to do the same as best we can and as only we can.
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