Reflection on the XXI Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Is. 22:19-23; Rom. 11:33-36; Mt. 16:13-20.
The 1st reading from Isaiah talks about the majordomo Shebna in the palace of King Hezekiah, who was a megalomaniac: “He has hewn for himself a sepulcher on a height and carved a tomb in the rock.” King Hezekiah had been threatened by Sennacherib of Assyria, but with the help of the prophet Isaiah, Jerusalem was saved and Sennacherib went back to Assyria without conquering Jerusalem. After this Jerusalem became prosperous, and as usual the people became complacent and turned to idols. God called to repentance but Jerusalem did not heed. Among the self-important and arrogant was Shebna who prepared a monumental burial place for himself. But the Lord has other plans, Shebna will be exiled into Babylon and there he will die in exile. He will be replaced by the humble Eliakim. It is the Lord who changes the persons in rank and his decrees are prophetic. Eliakim will be given a new robe as in investiture, and with the robe the authority it symbolizes. What is more telling are the following words: “I will place the key of the House of David in his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut; when he shuts, no one shall open.” This transfer of authority will be expressed in similar words by Jesus to Peter in our Gospel today. The important elements are the giving of the key, the authority of opening and closing of doors. At this point we can assert with St Paul: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!”
Jesus was up north with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi, and he wanted the disciples to confess their faith in his person. It was easy for them to quote what others think of him. But what about these who profess to follow him? What did they think he was? Peter, by special inspiration from the Father replied: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” This act of faith evoked a great response from Jesus: “You are Petros, and on this petra I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” As a name of a man, it is masculine, Petros, but as rock it is petra, feminine. In the Greek translation of the Bible done by the Jews themselves, ekklesia translated the Hebrew qahal, referring to the Israelite people as community of Yahweh. Qahal was the Church of the Old Testament, and ekklesia is the Church of the New Testament. Jesus adds a prophetic promise: “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Today many attacks are directed against the Holy Father and the Catholic Church as a whole. We need to pray for the Holy Father, the Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops and the whole hierarchy that they may be steadfast in upholding the Catholic Faith and be examples of holiness for all the faithful. Let us take refuge under the Maternal Mantle of the Bl. Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and our Mother, who during the past centuries has been God’s messenger to us calling everyone to conversion and holiness: La Sallette, Lourdes, Fatima, Garabandal, Medjugorie, and Lipa. She, the Immaculate Conception, steps on the head of the serpent. With her at our side, the gates of hell shall not prevail.
Lastly, in our Gospel today, Jesus transmits his authority to Peter and to the Church: “I give to you the keys of 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.” The power of loosing and binding is in general: “whatever”. After the resurrection John (20:23) reports that this was made specific: “whose sins you forgive, are forgiven them, whose sins you retain, are retained.” Jesus became man to suffer, die, be buried and rise again for the forgiveness of our sins. When he returns to heaven that work of forgiving sins must continue, so long as there are sinners to forgive, and naturally through the hands of his priests in his Church. Only God can forgive sins and only God can transmit that power to chosen men in his Church, already illustrated in Leviticus 5. Jesus merited for us salvation and eternal life, and he established his Church to be the channel for those graces to flow into us sinners. In his Church Jesus established the priesthood to minister to his people, and the sacraments through which the priest opens the flow of grace to each individual. In the Torah God established the Church of the Old Testament with its hierarchical priesthood and the sacraments and other rituals and festivals to transmit salvation to his people. Only in the Catholic Church do we have these elements and brought to perfection by the actions of Christ. Let us love God and love his Church that ministers to us for our salvation. Amen.