Monday, August 25, 2014

You Are Peter

                                    21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Feed My Sheep
Stained Glass Window
Assumption church
Fairfield CT*

We do not have to be concerned with the circumstances in the time of the Prophet Isaiah that caused one man to lose his position of authority, and be replaced by another man. We see plenty of it in our own time. During the past few years a number of seemingly invincible dictators have fallen from power, and others seem soon to follow.

In our own country politicians rise and fall with regularity. In the business world how many CEOs have been forced to step down in the past years? A good percentage of baseball managers and football coaches lose their jobs each year. Actually, you don’t have to be a big shot to have this experience.

In today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah we are told that the master of the King’s palace will be stripped of his authority. His keys, the symbol of his authority, will be taken from him and given to another. This reading introduces today’s gospel account of the giving of the keys of authority to Peter. In Matthew’s account this incident occurs after Jesus had exhibited his power over and over again in various ways. In the previous chapter Matthew had told of the feeding of the multitude on two separate occasions, the walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee during a storm, and just last week the healing of the daughter of the Canaanite woman.

After all these signs the Pharisees and the Sadducees still continued to doubt and test Jesus. He criticizes their blindness and warns his disciples not to follow their teaching. Like the master of the palace in Isaiah’s time, their authority will be taken from them. At this point, Jesus asks his disciples for feedback. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They relate what they have heard but then he asks for their own opinion. “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answers, “you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” After this affirmation, Jesus changes Simon Peter’s name, and gives him the keys that will symbolize his authority

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.

The changing of the name is as significant as the giving of the keys. Scholars tell us that the giving of a new name means that Jesus has given a new role to Peter. Peter may well have thought himself not ready for such great responsibility. During the storm on the Sea of Galilee he had doubted and only the Lord’s intervention had rescued him. In next week’s gospel we will see that Peter’s objections to Jesus’ announcement of his ultimate mission, led our Lord to rebuke him severely. Finally, Peter would even deny Jesus three times during the Passion.

We know that Peter, and the Apostles, and their successors have been given special authority. But I like to think that we all, despite our imperfections and failings, have been given the keys to our own little palaces. The message of the gospels is clear. We are all called to be good and faithful stewards. There is no doubt that we will think ourselves unworthy of the task, and that we will often stumble and falter. How many times will we look back and wonder if we could have done things better?

I believe that today’s second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans deals with this very point. He writes,

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!

How many times have we heard the expression that God works in mysterious ways? St. Paul himself never tired of referring to his own weakness, and noted that God uses the weak of the to accomplish His objectives. Despite his weakness and failings, Jesus said to Peter,

Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;And whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

This is a responsibility that all of us are called to share when it comes to our own families, friends, and neighbors.


Reading 1. Isaiah 22: 19-23
Reading II. Romans 11: 33-36
Gospel. Matthew 16: 13-20 (you are Peter) 

*Photographic image by Melissa DeStefano. Click on image to enlarge.

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