Anyone having had the experience of constructing anything above ground would know the importance of a strong foundation or a proper base to hold the structure. It does not take only an engineer to figure this out, but life will teach us this lesson (but one surely needs to go to engineering school to study complex structures). When I look out my bedroom window, I see the Merdeka Tower slowly coming up and I am sure (and I hope too) there is surely a solid foundation for this 118-storey, 644-metre mega-tall-lean skyscraper. Foundations and bases are important even for the simplest things in life. There are studies to show the correlation between the size of one’s feet and the height of the person… the taller the person, the bigger the feet.
The gospel today speaks about Jesus wanting to build His Church on ‘rock’ and Peter is referred to as the rock (‘Cephas’ means rock in Aramaic). In the Old Testament, the words rock and stone, elements that are used in ancient foundations, are used in the scriptures as metaphors signifying strength, steadiness, and durability. Moses even refers to God as a “Rock”(cf. Dt 32: 3-4). However, when Jesus uses the term rock, He recognises the imperfections of this “rock” but yet to him is given the responsibility to build the Church.
Let us not be misled to think that the ‘Church’ Jesus wanted to build was some ornate or lavish structure. In this context, what the author of the gospel of Matthew had in mind when he uses the word ‘Church’ is the setting up of a “congregation” or “assembly”. It is not the building but the forming of communities and the person that Jesus chooses is Peter, far from being the perfect candidate. Knowing very well that he will deny knowing Jesus not once, not twice but three times, Jesus still recognises Peter’s strength despite his imperfections.
Today many people look for “perfect Churches” – ornate, comfort, melodious choir, eloquent preacher, and so on and so forth. The current pandemic has sadly shown this reality where people are surfing online for that “perfect Church”. Some what our tolerance for an “imperfect Church” consumes us in such a way, similar to reading the customer reviews before buying a product online. It was church-hopping before the pandemic and now it is church-shopping during the pandemic. We may have further reduced the Church to being a “one-stop” service centre” that offers the best customer experience.
The person that Jesus chose to be the rock was far from being a polished rock and the churches that he and his companions formed later, were far from being the finished product. If we keep looking for that perfect Church, we will never find it because the human desire is an insatiable entity. It can never be satisfied for long periods of time.
Very early on in his pontificate, Pope Francis had this to say: “The church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners… we are a hospital for sinners and wounds healed inside.” As long as the Church is made up of persons, it will be imperfect and only perfected when Christ comes again in His glory. So, the next time you do come across what you would consider an “imperfect Church”, stay there – don’t run or surf away. You may be the one that Christ wants to mend the broken, bandage the wounds, and relief the tired. Each of us are imperfect but in the words of St Paul, God’s power is made perfect in weakness and perhaps that is why He asked that “imperfect rock” to build His Church. Amen.