TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY OF THE YEAR AUGUST 24, 2008

Isaiah 22:19-23   Romans 11:33-36   Matthew 16:13-20

In the gospel we have the great discovery of Jesus by the disciples. It is the expression of faith on the part of the disciples and particularly of Peter. On this faith the church is now built.  Simon Peter’s profound confession of faith is itself a gift of God.  The Father-Son relationship used by Jesus emphasizes the unique relationship and the likeness between Jesus and God.  Peter’s profession of faith identifies the type of Messiah the Jesus is, namely the suffering Messiah.  This messiah will lay down his life and bring salvation by his love.  Both Jesus and Simon receive new names: Jesus is the Son of the Living God and Simon is named as Peter on whose faith the church is built.  No one will be able to contest his judgment since Christ is always there.

In the first reading we see God telling Shebna that he would be removed from his office. Contrary to the Divine Will of God that was expressed through the great prophet Isaiah, Shebna tried to persuade Hezekiah to revolt against Assyria by sending for Egyptian support. In his place, God’s servant, Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, would assume authority.  In this message, the key that is worn over the shoulder represents the authority of its keeper to grant or deny admittance to the royal presence.  In the second reading, Paul speaks of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God, how unsearchable are his judgment and how varying are his ways. The riches and wisdom are fulfilled in Jesus.

When we review today’s Gospel, we see the mysteries of God at work. Many of the people did not know who Jesus was. On the other hand we see his close relationship with his disciples.  It represents a quantum leap in their understanding of Jesus.  It took them quite some time to become aware of just who Jesus really was.  Even then the revelation of Jesus is gradual and they did not understand him fully till the day of the Pentecost. At first Jesus asks the disciples who people think the son of man is. Here Jesus gives himself the messianic title. The question is like a teacher asking the students whether they have really understood the teaching. He gets several responses from the disciples: the people identified him with John the Baptist, Elijah, or Jeremiah. John the Baptist was killed by Herod and some thought he had come back to life. Elijah who had not tasted death and was said to return, to prepare the way of the Lord. Jeremiah had hidden the Ark of the Covenant and many thought he would come to show the place where it was kept.

Then Jesus asks his disciples directly who they think he is.  He wants to know whether they have really understood him and his mission.  Peter speaks now on behalf of the rest of the disciples: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is indeed a high point in their relationship with Jesus. It is also a moment of satisfaction to Jesus that the small band that he chose and kept with him, has understood his messianic mission. He can now go ahead with courage towards the cross and hence he gives his mission to Peter and thus to the disciples. For they have now acknowledged that their rabbi, their teacher and guide, is no less than the long-awaited Messiah, the anointed king of Israel.  The people will have to wait a long time to get the full message. The disciples are not to reveal it till the opportune time.

Jesus praises Peter for the confession he made:  “Simon, son of Jonah, you are a happy man! It was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.” Only faith could have led Peter to say what he expressed.  Only with God’s enlightenment could they see God’s presence in this carpenter from Galilee, their friend and teacher.  Peter must have glowed with pride at his choice of being the revealer of messiah.

What follows is a passage which will be the foundation for the authority given to the disciples and to Peter in particular in the post-Resurrection community.  In response to Peter’s declaration of faith, Jesus says, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.” He is now given a new name, Cephas or Peter or Petra, meaning rock.  Peter is the rock, the foundation of the community which will carry the name and the authority of Jesus to the whole world.   On this foundation the church will be built. This would be place where his apostolic companions will be faithful communicators of Jesus’ life and message.  There is the promise of endurance against all assaults of evil.  This is a testimony to the firmness of a foundation whose strength comes from Truth and Love of Jesus.   Peter is then given a special responsibility for the community.  “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” The Church is not itself the Kingdom but it does have the “keys”, in the sense of both authority and access, to the building of that Kingdom.

Jesus places on him the stewardship of the kingdom. “Whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven.  Whatever they decide corporately under the leadership of Peter and the Apostles will be acknowledged by God.  They can do this because they will later be given the Spirit as Teacher and Protector.  The leadership of Peter and his successors is not one of coercion and political power but of example and service.  As long as faith, hope, and love are strong in the community, it will survive and flourish.  Today’s passage tells us that sometimes in life, we do not understand why things happen the way they do. But surely, God who is everywhere, knows all, sees all and is in control of all situations.  We may not understand why certain things are happening in our lives. The events may appear mysterious. Although the Heavenly Father was mysterious in His ways at the time, His Divine Will is now made known to us.

Anecdote: Teacher Debbie Moon’s first graders were discussing a picture of a family.  One little boy in the picture had a different hair color than the other members. One of her students suggested that he was adopted. A little girl said, ‘I know all about adoption, I was adopted..’

‘What does it mean to be adopted?’, asked another child.

‘It means’, said the girl, ‘that you grew in your mommy’s heart instead of her tummy!’

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