21st Sunday Of Ordinary Time – Year A.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“Faith In Christ, The Rock On Which The Church
We find that the theme of this Sunday in the Gospel: ‘Faith in Christ’, Son of the living God, is the foundation of the Church.
The first reading is but a comment and an explanation, and shows the meaning of the symbolism of the ‘keys’ and clarifies how authority should be understood.
The second reading can be seen in the light of this theme because it presents the mysterious ways God intervenes in the history of mankind. This is also the way used by God to lead us to the discovery of the identity of Jesus of Nazareth.
In the Gospel, Peter the apostle receives the highest position among the followers of Jesus. Jesus pronounces Peter as the rock on which “I will build my Church.” Moreover Jesus says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”
Guide to ‘Live’ the Sunday Liturgy:
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
If at all possible, share this Bible Reflection time with a family member, a friend or someone you wish to bring to Christ. Jesus said in Mt. 18:20 – “For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.”
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation are from the published works of priests, bishops and Catholic theologians who have by their Divine inspiration become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a ‘Prayer’ are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. With faith and perseverance, we will start to put into practice the Lord’s teachings; begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love, God’s will, and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator. Meditations and Prayer on the Reflections should be done daily – first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.
It may be necessary to pray and repeat the study of the Bible Readings and Commentaries more than once, or even on a daily basis, if you feel that you have not yet grasped the Lord’s special message for you.
“In the Old Testament the ‘New’ is hidden.
In the New Testament the ‘Old’ is laid open”.
This Sunday’s first reading relates to the Gospel via the image of a ‘key’. Eliakim is promised the ‘key’ to the house of David to carry on his shoulder. In the Gospel we see Jesus promising the ‘keys to the kingdom of heaven’ to Peter. But there is a deeper parallel between these two readings than just the use of a common symbol.
Shebna, the prime minister during the reign of king Hezekiah, is a self-seeking and ambitious person. This is not what God expects of a royal servant. As our reading begins we hear that God will take away Shebna’s lofty position and give it to Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah. Eliakim would wear the robe and sash of office and exercise the authority that Shebna now wields. In this capacity, he would be a father to God’s people. Eliakim would carry the key that opened and closed all the doors of the palace and that symbolized his control over the affairs of state. Eliakim would be a source of security for the kingdom of Israel and would bring honour to his family.
The reading also tells us about how God deals with his people: he uses human agents to carry out his will. God could deal with each of us directly and with his community directly if he so chose. He could put his teachings into our hearts through immediate inspiration and give us directions about how to live by a means that came directly from him, without an intermediary. Generally God chooses to provide teachings and direction through other human beings: through authorized teachers in the Church, ordained and lay in the celebration of the sacraments and through his Word. These human agents of the Lord are expected to maintain a certain level of good character. These leaders are supposed to be indicators of what God wants for his people. God can use bad people as well as good for his purpose, but good leaders bring a dimension of credibility that bad leaders do not. Different kinds of people bring different gifts to their responsibilities. But, if they are to be effective representatives of God’s love for his people, they have to be in touch with the Lord. The authority that God entrusts to his leaders is not an authorization to do and impose what one likes and even less a right to receive honour and privileges. It consists in being like a father ever ready to sacrifice his life and interests for his children.
Eliakim sadly also became a victim to corruption and used his power and authority to further the interests of his family and friends. His downfall was that he put his own interests before God’s people.
Psalm 138:1-3, 6-8.
The Psalm is a hymn of thanksgiving, acknowledging God’s faithful love. From this experience of God’s faithful love, the psalmist is confident that God will protect him from all future dangers. He also wants the people of other nations to acknowledge the greatness of Israel’s God who cares for all people. In the Temple, the psalmist prays a prayer suitable for Eliakim (and Peter) to make after elevation to high office.
The text of today concludes the long exposition of the problem that caused so much anxiety to Paul: the Jew’s refusal to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. We have seen this unfaithfulness of theirs turn out to do some good: the pagans were allowed to enter into the Church. The persecutions by the Jews forced the evangelists to reach out to the pagans. In front of this ability of God to control all events of history and to get good even out of evil, Paul exclaims: “How rich are the depths of God – how deep his wisdom and knowledge – and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods.
A lot of things are beyond our understanding: why do the innocent suffer, why do the sinful seem to prosper, what happens after death? We all have our private lists of what we want to know one day.
God has the answers. For now, mystery is our best description of the impasse. The surrender to mystery is surrender to faith and trust in the wisdom and ultimate goodness of God.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples journey to the furthest end of the land under the control of the Romans, to Caesarea Philippi, a Gentile town forty-five kilometres north of Lake Galilee. In the Bible, physical journeys often signify spiritual progress, an occasion for growth in faith. The journey to Caesarea Philippi becomes a turning point in the life of Jesus. In his teaching and miracles, Jesus invited people to join him on a journey of faith. But their speed of travelling is very different. His disciples have faith but it is still small (Mk 16:8). The religious leaders reject him. Instead they accuse Jesus of working with the devil (Mt 9:34; 12:24), intend to destroy him (Mt 12:14) and now try to trap him (Mt 16:1). As for the crowd, they are journeying spiritually but slowly.
Some see Jesus as John the Baptist. They mistake the ‘messenger’ for the ‘Master’. For others Jesus is Elijah, the prophet who was expected to return at the time of the Messiah (Mt 3:23-24). For others still, Jesus is Jeremiah, the great prophet who has helped Israel not to lose hope of coming back after the exile (Jer. 30). They recognize Jesus as a great prophet speaking with God’s authority (Mt 7:29; 9:8). Yet they have still not recognized him as the ‘Messiah’ (Mt 13:53-58).
Shortly before setting out on their journey back to Jerusalem Jesus asks them two questions. The first one is general: “Who do people say that I am?” They give several answers to show how people understand him so far. The second more personal question is addressed to the disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. A rare moment in the Gospels, Peter has the right answer! Not only is Peter commended for his reply, but also he gets a new name, position and authority. Jesus’ words must have rushed passed Peter’s dazed mind like a waterfall: “The Rock, Church, Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, Bound and Loosed”. These images, often used by the rabbis at the time of Jesus, describe the authority to transmit the teachings of Christ and to judge what agrees with the Gospel and what is contrary to it. Peter who has manifested and confessed his faith in Christ represents the apostles and all the Christians who profess the same faith. But what is his specific ministry.
From now on we will see Peter taking the lead among the apostles. He appears as the equal of his colleagues but unique among them. Peter’s encounter with Jesus so transformed his life that he could be given this unique mission. There is no claim that he is better than the others. He will even deny Jesus three times but will repent and be reconfirmed in his mission.
In the Catholic tradition the Pope, as the Bishop of Rome, is the successor of Peter and presides over the communion of love in the whole Church, in union with all the bishops. The communion is maintained through the power of binding and loosing (Mt 18:18; Jn. 20:23). It is Peter’s humble service of ‘love’, which is not a dictatorship that will keep the community of believers united in Christ and among themselves.
Today, Christian communities are sadly divided and split on this very issue. These divisions are caused by people and not by the words of Jesus. To rebuild unity we cannot expect that it be left to others to return to us. We must all unite, that is all denominations and convert to the ‘Word of God’. We must abandon all things that are not evangelic in our way of understanding the ministry of the Pope and the authority of the Church. We must in particular adapt ourselves to what Jesus has so clearly and often repeated: The greatest among you must behave as if he were the smallest, the leader as if he were the one who serves”.
In contrast with the many answers of the crowd, Matthew shows that for a disciple of Jesus, there is only one answer, the answer given by Peter, the spokesman for the disciples: Jesus is “the Christ” (Mt 16:16). It is often easier to report what others say than what we think ourselves. This is what the disciples experience in today’s Gospel.
Perhaps the one of the best way of describing the ministry of the Pope is the one given by a famous bishop of the first Christian centuries, Irenaeus of Lyon, who called the bishop of Rome: ‘the one who presides over charity’.
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following the
21st Sunday of Ordinary Time: Year A, we reflect on …
Sun … The first reading is a story of two men: one brought low from a high position and one raised up to a level of new authority. We hear the echo of this motif everywhere in the Scriptures. ‘The first shall be last, and the last first”. We should by now know the moral of the story.
Mon … Power, prestige and position will not protect people in authority from God’s justice. Divine power comes from God. The authority that God entrusts to his leaders is not an authorization to do and impose what one likes and even less a right to receive honour and personal privileges. When one is given the ‘keys’ one must be ready to sacrifice all for the interests of others in the cause of truth, righteousness and God’s plan of salvation. Given power must never be abused!
Tues … All those in positions of leadership are expected to maintain a level of good character and be indicators of what God wants for his people. God can use bad people as well as good people for his purposes, but good leaders bring a dimension of creditability that bad leaders do not. Effective representatives of God’s love for his people must be constantly in touch with the Lord in order to carry out God’s will and not their own.
Wed … The more we come to understand the other ‘formulae for meaning’ such as science, philosophy, psychology and politics the fonder we will become of the sacred character of mystery. i.e. The unanswered questions we all have asked; why did this and that happen? The surrender to mystery is a submission to faith in the wisdom and ultimate goodness of God. Until the veil is lifted we need to rest on faith and trust in God.
Thurs … People have said, “What right does the Church have to lecture anybody?” The answer is simple. Jesus gave the Church that right. To Peter and the Church he gave the ‘keys’ of authority with the power to absolve the repented sin and to denounce or retain unrepented sin. The large key of authority was placed on the shoulder (first reading), a heavy burden to bear. But the authority represented by the ‘key’ is that of Christ. The Church will never abuse the authority of Christ.
Frid … The destructive forces of evil will never destroy the Church built on the man who was called Peter, the Rock. The Lord never indicated that the authority vested in Peter would cease after his death. There have been two hundred and sixty eight successors of Peter. A few, maybe three, have been lecherous, power hungry and conniving. But there has never been a Pope who preached heresy!
Sat … Jesus will ask all of us again today, “Who do you say that I am?” Have your answer ready.
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, as we pray today, let us be conscious of the bond of unity and love that we share with many other communities of faith throughout the world. May our actions of love and charity answer the question that Jesus asks of us today. We are the Church, the Body of Christ. We are the branches. Christ is the vine. Help us live as if we truly believed that.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.
Compliments: Bible Discussion Group. Our Lady of the Wayside, Maryvale.
“Discovering the Truth through God’s living Word”.