Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time,
23 August 2020
“And I say unto to thee, thou are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against.” Mt. 16: 18
In today’s readings, we are given the providential plan of Almighty God for the care of souls. In the gospel (Mt. 16:13-20) Jesus tells Peter that he will be the one to govern His church for all time: “And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Mt. 16:19 St. Peter had always been the chosen one of the apostles. The very first time that Jesus met Peter, St. John tells us that Jesus called Simon—Cephas or Rock: “Thou art Simon, the son of John; thou shalt be called Cephas (which interpreted is Peter).” Jn. 1:42 Now in today’s gospel, Jesus is confirming St. Peter’s role for his faith in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God: “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Mt. 16:16 Jesus then tells the apostles that this was given to Peter by His Father in heaven because no one could know this without God’s inspiration: “Blessed are thou, Simon Bar Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father in heaven.”Mt. 16:18
What Peter reveals here is an extraordinary revelation for a Jew First, the Jews did not pronounce the name of God for fear of blasphemy. Yet here Peter is calling a mere man “the Son of God.” This title so infuriated the Jews against Christ that they wanted to kill him for blasphemy, yet here Peter not only uses the name of God, but he calls a man a “Son of God.” He acknowledges Jesus’ divinity. He dares to name the son of a carpenter the “Son of God.” This is a great revelation which could only have been acknowledged with divine assistance from God the Father. As this is true of St. Peter, it is also so of our acknowledgement of Jesus as the “Son of God” too. Jesus wants His apostles to know that He is the Messiah and the “Son of God,” but He also tells them not to tell anyone that He is the Christ, the Messiah because the Jews were looking for an earthly, political Messiah. Jesus’ kingdom would be eternal and not of this world.
Foreshadowing of Peter in Isaiah
In the First Reading from the prophet Isaiah (Is. 22:22-23), we see a complementary passage from the Old Testament where another steward is
chosen. Eliakim is chosen to replace a wicked servant, Shebne. He shall be given the keys to the House of David: “And I will lay the key of the House of David upon his shoulders; and he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut and none shall open.” Is. 22:22 Eliakim can be seen as a type of Peter because he also will be given the keys to the House of David and only he will be able to open and shut just like Peter will be given the keys to the kingdom of heaven when what he binds on earth will also be bound by God in heaven and what he looses on earth will be loosed in heaven.
God’s Incomprehensible Wisdom
In the Second Reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (11:33-36) we have a lyrical celebration of God’s great wisdom: “Oh the depth of riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God!” (Rom. 11:33) God’s wisdom is incomprehensible and who on earth can ever understand it. Isn’t this true of what St. Peter alone recognizes; Jesus Christ is God incarnate. Who can ever comprehend this sublime truth—God becoming a man and not ceasing to be God? This is the basis of our faith and Pope John Paul II would have us also, like the apostles, answer the question, “But who do you say that I am?” Mt. 16:15. What do we also say of Christ? Who is Jesus Christ? Pope St. John Paul II says that a person’s life, “his whole future, depends on the clear, sincere and unequivocal answer, without rhetoric or subterfuge, that he gives to this question. (Homily, July, 1980) If we acknowledge Christ’s divinity, as we must, then St. Paul cries out: “For him and through him and unto him are all things.” Rom. 11:36 For Him, for God is our creator, through Him, for He sustains all things and to Him, for He is our final goal. How can our lives ever be the same again when we know that we owe God everything as our creator and eventual helper on our journey to our final destination in heaven?
The Church, the Great Means of Salvation
The incomprehensible wisdom of God is seen in the great revelation of Jesus to Peter: “Upon this rock…” Mt. 16:18 Christ will build His Church on the rock, Peter. This will be the means to help all souls achieve their final destination or purpose in life: “Why did God make you? God made me to know Him, to love and to serve Him in this life and to be happy with Him forever in the next life (in heaven). (Baltimore Catechism, question #2) The means to achieve this will be the Church founded upon the rock, St. Peter. Pope St. Leo the Great in speaking about this passage where St. Peter is made head of the Church says: “It is as if our Lord had said to him, ‘I unbreakable stone, I am the cornerstone in the foundation apart from which no one can build. But you are also the ‘Rock’, because through my power you have acquired such firmness that you, by participation, share with me the power which have by right.” (Homily 4) St. Peter will be Christ’s vicar! He has been given the keys, a symbol of his power and jurisdiction. He will also be the first among the apostles, and he will be protected from error: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against thee.” Mt. 16:18
Primacy and Infallibility of the Pope
All of St. Peter’s successors to papacy continue to share this power of primacy and infallibility. For two thousand years, they have ruled and never once has one of the 266 Popes ever erred in doctrine of faith or morals. How incomprehensible for us to understand what the wisdom and power of God has done for us. St. Peter and all the Popes are mere men, but they share in God’s infinite wisdom. St. Ambrose commenting on this truth said, “Where Peter is there is the Church, there is God.” Let us always listen to our Holy Father in Rome. Let us pray the rosary for him, as Our Lady said at Fatima, “The Holy Father will have much to suffer.” St Jose Maria Escriva tells us: “You must love, venerate, pray and mortify yourself for the Pope, and do so with greater affection each day. For he is the foundation-stone of the Church and, throughout the centuries, right to the end of time, he carries out among men the task of sanctifying and governing which entrusted to Peter.” (The Forge, 134)