Homily starter anecdote: “Who do you think I am?” In 1896, after fifteen centuries, Athens renewed the Olympic Games. You can imagine how proud the Greeks were to host the first modern Olympics. You can also imagine how disappointed they were at their athletes' lack of success in event after event. The last competition was the marathon. Greece's entrant was named Louis, a shepherd without competitive background. He'd trained alone in the hills near his flock. When the race started, Louis was far back in the pack of marathoners. But as the miles passed he moved up steadily. One by one the leaders began to falter. The French hero fell in agony. The hero from the United States had to quit the race. Soon, word reached the stadium that a lone runner was approaching the arena, and the emblem of Greece was on his chest! As the excitement grew, Prince George of Greece hurried to the stadium entrance where he met Louis and ran with him to the finish line. In this sports tale, we have something of the history of the human race. Jesus Christ started from way back in the pack. He was born in relative obscurity, never had many followers, commanded no army, erected no edifices, wrote no books. He died young, was buried in a borrowed grave, and you'd think he'd be quickly forgotten. But, no! His reputation has grown, so that today Jesus is worshiped on every continent, has more followers than ever before and sixteen times has been pictured on the cover of Time magazine, while Jesus’ sayings have been translated into more than 200 languages. Consider: Socrates taught for forty years, Plato for fifty, and Aristotle, forty. Jesus Christ only taught for three years. Yet which has influenced the world more, one hundred thirty years of classical thought or three years of Christ's? In the Library of Congress there are 1,172 reference books on William Shakespeare, 1,752 on George Washington, 2,319 on Abe Lincoln, and 5,152 on Jesus Christ. Perhaps H. G. Wells best summed up the runaway difference in interest. "Christ," he wrote, "is the most unique person of history. No man can write a history of the human race without giving first and foremost place to the penniless teacher of Nazareth." As Emerson once noted, "The name of Jesus is not so much written as PLOUGHED into the history of the world." Today’s gospel challenges us to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior as St. Peter did at Caesarea Philippi.
Introduction: We might call this Sunday “Power Sunday” because the main theme of all three readings is that God is the Source of all authority. God shares His authority with elected civil rulers to serve the people and with the Pope and the other Church leaders for the material and spiritual welfare of His children.
Scripture lessons: The first reading, taken from Isaiah, tells us how God hates unfaithful and selfish officials by describing how He removed the proud “master of the royal palace,” Shebna from his office and promoted the humble and faithful Eliakim. The robe, the sash, and the keys are the insignia of this office. In today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 138), David thanks God for having raised him from lowly origins and given him authority as king over the people of Israel. In the second reading, St. Paul praises God for the depth of His wisdom and knowledge and correct judgments, and asserts that He is the Source of all authority on earth and in Heaven. Today’s Gospel passage shows us how Peter confesses Jesus as his Lord and Savior and how Jesus, in turn, approves his words and gives the teaching and ruling authority in his Church to Peter. Thus, Jesus establishes a “Magisterium” in his Church to serve the spiritual and physical needs of the Church members. By Jesus’ statement, “I will give you the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven,” he gives Peter and his successors the power to bind and to loose (make laws; exercise authority) in the Church, and the assurance that their decisions will be ratified in Heaven.
The first reading (Is 22:19-23) explained: Chapters thirteen through twenty-three of Isaiah record oracles in which the prophet Isaiah pronounces God's judgment against various nations. In chapter twenty-two, Shebna, the proud and unfaithful royal official, is severely criticized and told by the Lord God, through Isaiah, that he will have to yield to a replacement named Eliakim: “I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station.” The reason for the degradation of Shebna, the “master of the royal palace,” (the most powerful person next to the King), was that he had tried to immortalize himself by beginning to construct his own tomb in a lofty place on the mountain. The Lord demands faithfulness to His way and His word. Hence, Shebna was removed from his position of controlling access both to the city and to the king
The “master of the royal palace” proudly carried the "key," an iron bar of considerable size, on his shoulder during state occasions. This "key" symbolism recalls Eliakim's installation as “major domo” (second in command to the king) in King Hezekiah's palace. The reference to the "key of the house of David" in this text prompted some Fathers to see in it a Messianic prophecy, foretelling the removal from power of the leaders of the Chosen People of the Old Testament, and the transfer of that power to Christ, who in turn would hand it on to Peter as head of His Church. The robe and the sash indicate that Eliakim has been invested with authority. The key symbolizes jurisdiction, and the tent peg is a sign of stability. This passage prepares us for today's Gospel, Matthew 16:13-20, in which Jesus grants Peter "the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven." The "key of David" connects with Matthew's "keys to the Kingdom of Heaven." Isaiah emphasizes the charismatic dimension of authority, stating that it is Yahweh who gives certain individuals the charism of leadership. “Isaiah foretells that the keys to David’s kingdom would be given to a new master, who would rule as father to God’s people. Jesus, the root and offspring of David, alone holds the Kingdom’s keys (see Revelation 1:18; 3:7; 22:16). (Dr. Scot Hann). The purpose of authority in the Church, of authority at any level, is not to control the lives of others, but rather to help them to seek the values that will bring them lasting joy, both in this changing world and in the next.
The Second Reading (Romans 11:33-36) explained: Paul praises the wisdom of God and His inscrutable ways of bringing salvation to all people. Paul marvels at the Divine goodness, wisdom and knowledge. He emphasizes the wisdom of God described in chapters 9-11.
Gospel Exegesis: Two questions and the answers. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus asked certain questions about his identity. This incident took place at Caesarea Philippi, (presently called Banias), twenty-five miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus asked a question in two parts. The first question: “What is the public opinion?” The apostles’ answer was, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” John the Baptist was so great a figure that it might well be that he had come back from the dead. Elijah, the greatest of the prophets was believed to be the forerunner of the Messiah. ["Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes" (Mal 4:5). In 2Esdr 2:18 the promise of God is: "For thy help I will send my servants Isaiah and Jeremiah."] The phrase "one of the prophets" suggested that Jesus had a ministry like that of the former prophets. When the people identified Jesus with Elijah and with Jeremiah, they were, according to their lights, paying him a great compliment and setting him in a high place, for Jeremiah and Elijah were the expected forerunners of the Anointed One of God. When they arrived, the Kingdom would be very near indeed.
The second question: “What is your personal opinion? For the first time in their relationship Peter, speaking for the other disciples, declared publicly: “You are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God.” Peter was the first apostle to recognize Jesus publicly as the Anointed One (also translated Messiah or Christ. Christ is the Greek word for the Hebrew word Messiah). Peter was saying that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one of God, Immanuel, the Salvation of God -- God who became Man to save sinners! It is evident that Jesus was well pleased with Peter’s answer. Jesus first pronounced a blessing upon Peter, the only disciple in the Gospels to receive a personal blessing. "Blessed are you, Simon son of John!" Next, Jesus confirmed Peter's insight as a special revelation from God. "No mere man has revealed this to you, but my Heavenly Father." However, Jesus was quick to explain to the disciples that he was not a political Messiah. He was, rather, a Messiah who must suffer, die and be raised to life again.
The promise: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church.” Ever since Pope Stephen I (254-257), used this text against Cyprian of Carthage to defend Roman primacy, these verses have been among the most disputed in the New Testament. Historically, they have been central to issues of authority in the Church, especially of the authority of the episcopacy and of the Bishop of Rome. Jesus’ promise to Peter is the Catholic basis for the position of the Pope and of the Church. The Church teaches that Peter was given the keys which admit a man to Heaven or exclude him from it, and that to Peter was given the power to absolve or not to absolve a man from his sins. In other words, Jesus gave to Peter the authority to determine what courses of action would be permitted or forbidden in the Church. It is further argued by the Catholic Church that this power given to Peter has descended to all the Bishops of Rome throughout all ages, and that it exists today in Pope Francis, who, as the direct successor of Peter, is the head of the Church and the Bishop of Rome.
The Magisterium of the Church in the First Vatican Council defined the doctrine of the primacy of Peter and his successors in these terms: 6 “We teach and declare, therefore, according to the testimony of the Gospel that the primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church was immediately and directly promised to and conferred upon the blessed Apostle Peter by Christ the Lord. For to Simon, Christ had said, ‘You shall be called Cephas’ (John 1:42). Then, after Simon had acknowledged Christ with the confession, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16), it was to Simon alone that the solemn words were spoken by the Lord: ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’ (Matthew 16:17-19). Then, after His Resurrection, Jesus conferred upon Simon Peter alone the jurisdiction of supreme shepherd and ruler over His whole fold with the words, ‘Feed my lambs ... Feed my sheep’” (John 21:15-17). [...]
The keys of Heaven and the binding power. The wording has its roots in Isaiah 22:22, (today’s first reading): "I will place on Eliakim's shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open." Eliakim thus became the steward of the house, responsible for opening the house in the morning, closing it at night, and controlling access to the royal presence. According to Josephus a historian; “The power of binding and loosing was always claimed by the Pharisees. Under Queen Alexandra the Pharisees became the administrators of all so as to be empowered to banish and readmit whom they pleased as well as to loose and bind.” (http://www.canapologetics.net/peter_and_papacy_2.html) So here, in the New Testament, we see Jesus handing over these “keys”, these to the Kingdom of Heaven, to one of the apostle’s, Peter. We notice the similarities and differences between this passage and the one from Isaiah. Where Eliakim has the key placed on his shoulder, Jesus hands the keys to Peter; Where “he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open,” Peter is told “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The Anchor Bible commentary, an Interfaith work (Catholic, Protestant and Jewish scholars), says this: “By conferring the power to bind and loose upon Church leadership, Jesus authorizes it to interpret the Scriptures and establish norms for Christian behaviour (vol. 1).” One final quote comes from a primary Protestant authority, Martin Luther, who, five years after the Reformation, declared “So we stand here and with open mouth stare heavenward and invent still other keys. Yet Christ says very clearly in Matt 16:19 that he will give the keys to Peter. He does not say he has two kinds of keys, but He gives to Peter the keys He Himself has and no others. It is as if He were saying: “Why are you staring heavenward in search of the keys? Do you not understand I gave them to Peter? They are indeed the keys of Heaven, but they are not found in Heaven. I left them on earth. Don’t look for them in Heaven or anywhere else except in Peter’s mouth where I have placed them. Peter’s mouth is my mouth, and his tongue is my key case. His office is my office, his binding and loosing are My binding and loosing” [Martin Luther, “The Keys,” in Conrad Bergendoff, ed., trans. Earl Beyer and Conrad Bergendoff, Luther’s Works, volume 40, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1958), p 365-366.] In this role, Peter was the first to preach Christ, and he did so to three thousand people at Pentecost (Acts 2); he became the spokesman to the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). “Bind and loose” also concerns doctrine and ethical conduct, declaring certain actions as either forbidden or permitted. Later Christian tradition extended this principle to include the power to forgive or retain sins (18:18; John 20:23). In Mt 18:18, Jesus extends this authority to the whole group of disciples, saying, "Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven." Catholics believe that Peter's authority passed from Peter to the Popes who followed him. “In giving those Keys to Peter, Jesus fulfills that prophecy, establishing Peter - and all who succeed him - as holy father of His Church. His Church, too, is the new house of God - the spiritual temple founded on the “rock” of Peter, and built up out of the living stones of individual believers (see 1 Peter 2:5)”. (Dr. Scot Hann).
Guarantees given to Peter and his successors: The Catholic Church teaches that by giving Peter the "keys" along with the promise that all his decisions would be ratified in Heaven, Christ gave Peter the power of freedom from error when he was officially teaching the universal Church. In other words, Peter received primacy in the Church and the gift of infallibility in his official teaching on matters of Faith and morals. The first Vatican Council defined this Dogma, and the second Vatican Council reconfirmed it. As the Church was to continue long after Peter had died, it was rightly understood from the beginning that those privileges given to him which were necessary for the successful mission of the Church, were given to his lawful successors – the Popes.
The most disputed text, "Upon this rock I will build my Church": Origen interpreted the text to mean that Peter is the type of every true, spiritual Christian on whom the Church is built. The “Eastern” Church interpreted the rock as the Faith of Peter, so that the Church is built on the Faith of believing Christians. The Roman or pontifical interpretation which dates from the fourth century is that rock is Peter, and the promises made to Peter apply also to Peter’s successors in the Petrine ministry. Since Vatican I, this has been the normative interpretation for Roman Catholics. The Middle Ages gave the Christological interpretation, according to which Christ is the rock (see 1 Cor. 3:11, 10:4). Non-Catholics argue that there is no evidence that Peter’s ministry would be successive. However, the whole context and meaning of the imagery from the beginning to the end show it to be a ministry that must be successive. First of all, the image of the rock is, by its very nature, a timeless and everlasting image. That’s why the image of the rock was chosen. That’s how rocks are. They’re there to stay. Then, in Matthew 16, Jesus himself says that the steward’s ministry will have an eternal dimension. He holds the keys to the Kingdom of God and the gates of hell will never prevail against it. Finally, the image of the shepherd, as we have seen, is an eternal one because God himself is the ultimate Good Shepherd. If the rock, the steward, and the shepherd are eternal ministries, then for it to last that long, the ministry given to Peter must be successive. How could this eternal ministry have died out with Peter himself and still have been eternal?
Authority for service: In a dramatic return to the spirit of the apostolic church, the participants at the Second Vatican Council affirmed the teaching of Jesus, in that authority is always to be exercised as a service and in a collegial manner for the building up of the community (Dogmatic Constitution on The Church, # 27). Following Vatican II, a number of ecumenical dialogues have resulted in more of a consensus among Christians concerning authority in the Church. The Anglican, Roman-Catholic International Commission issued a document entitled “An Agreed Statement on Authority in the Church“(1977). According to this commission, the model of authority in the Church is not political, sociological, structural or juridical but rather one of koinonia, viz., a union based on mutual loving service in the truth of Christ, activated by the Holy Spirit in order to create community with God and all persons. Similar statements by the Lutheran Catholic Dialogue remind contemporary disciples of Jesus that all Christian authority is rooted in Christ and in the Gospel, a word of power from God (Romans 1:16) which is proclaimed by various witness-servants who are given a share in the authority of Christ, the Witness-Servant-Model for us all.
Life messages: 1) We need to accept Jesus as our Lord and personal savior: Jesus is not merely the founder of a new religion, or a revolutionary reformer, or one of the great teachers. For Christians, he is the Son of God and our personal Savior. This means that we have to see Jesus as the Good Shepherd, the Savior, and the Redeemer. He is our beloved friend, closer to us than our dear ones and a living experience, who walks with us, loves us, forges us, helps us and transforms our lives and outlook. We have to give all areas of our lives to him. He must have a say in our daily lives and we must radiate all around us his sacrificial agápe love, unconditional forgiveness, overflowing mercy and committed service. The joy, the love, the peace that we find in Jesus should be reflected in the way we live our lives.
2) We need to experience Jesus as our Lord and Savior and surrender our lives to him. The knowledge of Jesus as Lord and personal Savior should become a living, personal experience for each Christian. This is made possible by our listening to Jesus through the daily, meditative reading of the Bible, by our talking to Jesus through daily, personal and communal prayers, by our offering our lives on the altar with Jesus whenever we attend Holy Mass and by our leading a sacramental life. The next step is the surrender of our lives to Jesus by rendering humble and loving service to others with the strong conviction that Jesus is present in every person. The step after that is to praise and thank God in all the events of our lives, both good and bad, realizing that God’s loving hands are behind every event of our lives. (Fr. Antony Kadavil).