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The Keys to the Kingdom…

The Keys to the Kingdom…

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

The great doctor of the Church St. Augustine of Hippo taught that the New Testament is concealed in the Old and that the Old Testament is revealed in the New. We see an example of this in our readings. In the days of the Prophet Isaiah, the Lord chose “Eliakim son of Hilkiah” to become chief steward of the royal house, that is, prime minister for the reigning Davidic king. The Lord declared, “I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open.” The holder of this office possessed plenary power under the king throughout the kingdom. He reportedly carried a visible key indicating this authority that he would pass on to his successors.

In our gospel today, when Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am,” Simon answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus replies, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” Jesus changes Simon son of Jonah’s name to “Rock,” or “Petros” in Greek, which we render as “Peter.” In the entire Old Testament, God only changed the names of three people: Abram to Abraham, Abram’s wife Sarai to Sarah, and Jacob to Israel, so the changing of Simon’s name is a big deal in salvation history.

Jesus then declares to Peter, “I will give you the keys to 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.” In the Old Testament, the Lord gave Eliakim “the key of the House of David” and authority to open and close. Likewise here, Jesus Christ the new Davidic king gives Peter “the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven” and authority to bind and loose. Eliakim’s power extended throughout an earthly kingdom, but the Lord promises Peter that his earthly decrees for the Church will also be confirmed in heaven. Eliakim would become, in the words of the Lord through the Prophet Isaiah, “a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.” St. Peter became the Church’s first “pope,” a title that comes from the Greek word for a “papa” and an office held today by Peter’s successor, our Holy Father Pope Francis. Jesus knew that without a visible shepherd his Christian flock would inevitably scatter. Like Moses for the Hebrews in the desert, or like King David for God’s people in Israel, Christ establishes a chief shepherd for his Church on earth through his popes, beginning with St. Peter.

Yet, this highlight moment in Simon Peter’s life is immediately followed by a humbling event in St. Matthew’s Gospel, which will be our gospel reading next Sunday. Jesus starts revealing to his disciples that he must suffer greatly from the Jewish leaders, be killed, and be raised on the third day. So Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you!” Jesus turns and says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! (That is, “Get behind me, Adversary!”) You are (being) an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Notice how Jesus here reproaches Peter differently than how he rebuked Satan in the desert, to whom he said, “Get away, Satan!” Jesus does not cast Peter away. He tells him to “get behind me,” that is, ‘Follow me again.” Whenever you or I go wrong, Jesus calls us to follow him anew.

For what was Peter praised by Jesus and for what was he corrected? First Jesus tells him, “Blessed are you, Simon…. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” But later Jesus reproves him, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Peter was praised for accepting the truth God had revealed and rebuked for trying to substitute his own ideas for God’s will. In today’s second reading, St. Paul reflects, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor?” Our Catholic Faith is a revealed religion with infallible teachings about what is true and how we are to live. Who could discover all of these things correctly apart from Christ’s one Church built on rock? Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself… and follow me.” To get fully behind Jesus Christ, always accept what God has revealed to us through his Holy Catholic Church.

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