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Friday, 25 August 2017

21st Sunday of Year A 2017

 21st. Sunday of Year (A)
(Isaiah 22:19-23; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20)

In the first reading we heard of one Eliakim of whom it was said:

When he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open.

That statement is mirrored in our Gospel passage where 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.

However, that mirror-likeness of structure would seem to be the strongest resemblance between those two statements.  For, the authority given to Eliakim had been the politico-religious authority of demoted Shebna, whereas the authority bestowed on Peter was essentially spiritual, indeed, one might even say heavenly, given by Jesus responding to His Father’s inspiration of Peter:

          I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church.

Simon Peter, speaking in the name of all the Apostles had answered Jesus’ question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ by a most categorical statement:

          You are the Christ the Son of the living God.

Now Nathanael from Galilee had earlier spoken every bit as decisively as Peter on hearing Philip tell him about Jesus, when he said, ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’  On meeting Nathanael, Jesus in turn had said, ‘Here is a true Israelite.  There is no duplicity in him.’

And yet, when at that their first meeting Nathanael went on to declare to Jesus:

          Rabbi, you are the son of God, you are the King of Israel!

Jesus did not think Nathanael had been inspired by His Father even though his words were very much like the subsequent words of Peter; indeed, He would seem to have thought Nathanael believed too much too easily, for He somewhat casually said, ‘You will see greater things than this’.

With Peter’s statement, however, the situation was totally different; for, on hearing it, Jesus immediately recognized a revelation by His Heavenly Father behind Peter’s typically enthusiastic and decisive words, and He therefore most solemnly declared:

And so, (because of My Father’s revelation to you) 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.

People of God, the ‘rock’ supporting Jesus’ Church is Peter-confessing-Jesus-as Son-of-God.  That is Peter’s supreme function in Mother Church, to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God, and nothing must be allowed to detract from or overshadow that function for which Peter was chosen by the Father and confirmed by Jesus for His future Church: confessing and proclaiming, Jesus of Nazareth as Son of God, to all the world.

The history of Eliakim shows what could hinder any Pope’s fulfilment of his office.  Eliakim’s elevation brought honour for his family; we are told the Lord said:

          I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honour for his family.

It was there that the trouble began:

On him shall hang all the glory of his family: descendants and offspring, all the little dishes, from bowls to jugs.

The family began to take over the man: relatives of all sorts came to him with their requests and needs and, in that way, the family began to gradually smother the public servant authorised by God:

On that day, says the Lord of hosts, the peg fixed in a sure spot shall give way, break off and fall, and the weight that hung on it shall be done away with; for the Lord has spoken.

The Old Testament examples of Shebna and Eliakim thus enable us to espy something of the wisdom of God of which St. Paul spoke in the second reading, a wisdom that never ceased to astound him the more he considered the wonders of God's saving Providence:

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

For, despite the vagaries and duplicities of, the hidden and dark corners to be found in, the human mind and heart, the Gospel shows us a new ingredient, so to speak, which will transform the peg of the Old Testament into the Rock of the New Testament: that is, Jesus’ Personal choice of Peter and promise to His future Church, made in totally loving and trusting response to His Father.

The new, transforming, ingredient is to be found in the fact that Peter was given authority ‘in the name of Jesus’: since Peter -- inspired by the Father -- had proclaimed his faith in Jesus as Messiah and Son of the Living God, Jesus would build His Church on that Rock of His Father’s inspiration of Peter’s faith and confession.  Only Peter was chosen by Jesus as the foundation stone, the Rock, on which to build His Church, because of His Father’s revelation/inspiration given uniquely to Peter, and also because of Peter’s unhesitating and wholehearted response to that inspiration.  Both Jesus, and the Father Himself, are thus to be seen behind Peter.

Therefore, People of God, our readings today help us see clearly just who is the supreme head and ultimate leader of the Church: it is the heavenly Jesus.  True, Peter is the head of the Church on earth, he is the visible head called to proclaim Jesus as Son of God and Saviour, and called also to strengthen his fellow apostles in their proclamation of the Gospel, thus making Jesus’ Church truly one on earth.  But Peter is only able to be that visible head, because Jesus is the heavenly, ultimate, Head Who prays unceasingly for Peter that he may – despite bad Middle Ages and Renaissance popes -- continue through time to fulfil the rock-like function of prime proclaimer of Jesus as Son of God and mankind’s Saviour towards his brethren and to Mother Church on earth.

The proclaimer of Jesus as Son of God and Saviour is not called to be a specialist in liturgy, or one given to philosophical considerations concerning the Gospel, he is not necessarily an ethicist responding to mankind’s moral dilemmas and errors as he sees best.  No, although Popes may and indeed have been any of those things earlier, their subsequent  Petrine calling supersedes all such talents and propensities.

Our Gospel passage shows with supreme clarity that Peter, that every Pope, should strive to be, first and foremost a proclaimer of the Person, the truth and the beauty, the inspirational glory and power, the comforting and saving love and compassion of Jesus.  Any failing in the desired fulfilment of that unique vocation, even when done sincerely for love of another aspect of service in the name of Jesus, can bring dissension and doubt into the Church.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, dear People of God, let us therefore today give heartfelt thanks for St.  John Paul II the latest manifestly faithful Peter to grace our lives and strengthen our confession, and let us whole-heartedly pray for our present Pope Francis and pope-emeritus Benedict in all their many needs and aspirations.