Only with faith, trust can we say who Jesus is
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 21
Isaiah 22:13-23; Psalm 138:1-2,2-3,6,8; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20
In this week’s Gospel, Jesus is in Caesarea Philippi, a region north of the Sea of Galilee. It is here that there will be some changes taking place.
Jesus is beginning to prepare for his approaching death. He starts by asking his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13) In other words, “Who do people say that I am?”
In their reply, they tell him that some think he is John the Baptist, who recently was beheaded by Herod. Others say Elijah, who went to heaven on a fiery chariot and was expected to come back as the Messiah, or maybe Jeremiah who announced that the Messiah would have to be rejected and suffer just as Jeremiah did. Some people might even think Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.
But Jesus persists: “Who do you say that I am?” Simon, son of Jonah, responds emphatically, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus, realizing that he could only know this because his heavenly Father revealed it to him, declares Simon to be blessed.
Jesus goes on to tell him, “And so I say to you, you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18) Are you wondering why Jesus said Peter instead of Simon? In the Old Testament, at the time God made a covenant with Abram to be the “father of a host of nations” (Genesis 17:4), He changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “the father is exalted.” Simon, son of Jonah, is now to be known as Peter. In Greek it would be Petros, “a masculine noun meaning ‘rock.'”
According to the Ignatius Study Bible, “This accentuates the symbolism of the name: Simon is himself the rock upon which Jesus builds the church.”
GUIDED BY SUCCESSORS
Jesus then says, “I will then give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 16:19) Receiving the “keys” was a longtime custom of the Jewish people. Isaiah, in the first reading, talks about what will happen when Eliakim is chosen to be the master of the palace, the head of the Davidic household. He will wear a robe and sash, and a “key” will be placed on his shoulders as a symbol of his authority.
Peter is given the “keys” as a symbol of his leadership and “authority” to govern the house of God, the church. With this authority comes the power to “bind and loose.”
“The words bind and loose mean: whomever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will welcome back into his.” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1445)
Not only was this power given to Peter, it “was also assigned to the college
of the apostles united to its head.” (CCC, 1444).
Peter being chosen as the head of the church — the apostolic college, the rock — is the church’s foundation. He is given the keys and the promise that any decisions made will be inspired and acknowledged in heaven. Peter and the disciples had faith and trusted Jesus.
We are to have faith and trust in God that the church will never fail. We must also trust that those who are successors of the apostles will continue to help us to know the answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am?” and live as disciples of Christ, going out to “make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I (Jesus) have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
In the second reading, Paul expresses his faith and trust in God. God’s plan might have been a mystery to him as it is for us, but like Paul we can say “from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever.” (Romans 11:36)
As we reflect on Psalm 13, let us give thanks for our Catholic Church, the leaders who guide us (the pope, bishops, priests), and all that God has given us.
SHARON PRIESTER is one of six regional directors of religious education working with the diocesan Office of Catechetics. She is a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Bloomington.