21st Sunday of Ordinary Time Isaiah 22:19-23
Thus says the Lord to Shebna, master of the palace: “I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station. On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut when he shuts, no one shall open. I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honor for his family.”
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. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Gospel Cycle Cycle A
Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “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, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
Clearly our focus today is on the role of authority in the Church established by our Lord Jesus Christ. In today’s Gospel, from Saint Matthew, we have the account of Jesus giving authority to Simon Peter and acknowledging of his faith. We know that later Saint Peter will have his doubts and will even deny Jesus, but it looks fairly clear that no one—not even our Lord—held that against him or ever doubted his role in the early Church. The Church is built on Peter, not on his faith. Authority is a service in any community and should never be seen as domination. On the other hand, the person who has authority at times must exercise it in a way that leaves others unhappy.
We live in a time when many people simply do not want any authority over them. The true authority in the Church is Christ Himself, especially at the level of His teachings and of His giving us understanding of the word of Scripture. But there are always lots of practical decisions to be made in any community. We see these kinds of practical decisions already being made in the early Church, especially as it is present in the Acts of the Apostles, but also in the letters of Saint Paul.
Jesus gives authority not to put power in someone’s hands, but because He clearly recognizes that any group needs someone in this role of service and servant of the community. We do not need to think of the early Church as fully formed in some sense, but rather as the beginnings of the Church. Even in our own times, the Church continues to adapt herself to times and places—but always with that incredible foundation in the teachings of Jesus Christ, in our faith in Jesus Christ.
Today’s first reading, from the Prophet Isaiah, is surely given to us to help us understand the Gospel. The Lord is putting Eliakim into a position of responsibility, in charge of the household of David. This role of authority in a household is a clear parallel to the Church. David is the head of his household. Christ in the head of the Church. Eliakim can open and close in a completely authoritative manner. Peter has that role in the Church.
We Catholics believe that this role of Saint Peter passes on to the Bishop of Rome, whom we now call the Pope or the Holy Father. If such a position in the Church could exist even after the death of our Lord, there is no reason to think that it could not exist today and have been handed down.
We can stop for a moment and meditate on the wonderful gifts of our Lord. We can echo the second reading, from the Letter to the Romans:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! To him be glory forever. Amen.