For the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle A) – August 27, 2017

“Let us therefore yield ourselves and bow to the authority of the Holy Scriptures,
which can neither err nor deceive.”
(St. Augustine)

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Theme: Authority.

Reading 1 and the Gospel reading speak about the conferral of keys of authority. In Reading 2, Paul bows down before the authority of God whose ways are inscrutable and full of wisdom.

The authority our leaders attain upon their election is just like our own Free Will. It can be used under the direction of God for the good of all or it can be used inappropriately. Helping to deal with the aspects of their inappropriate use of authority, it helps to remind ourselves how we should live as just believers, strong believers, and wise believers. “The just believer tries to imitate the God of Justice and the strong believer appreciates the danger of excessive use of power – these types of believers appreciate God for being able to engage and handle the messiest aspects of life with compassion, wisdom and finesse. Such is true wisdom. Wise believers likewise willingly wade into the fray of life and risk the chaos, the complications, the injustices, and the human foibles of all such issues. Wise believers who engage life survive and thrive even as they respect everyone concerned.” (From The Franciscans St. Anthony’s Guild) All of this is good medicine for today’s rampant political polarization and disingenuousness in America!

“The confession of love must precede the bestowing of authority; authority without love is tyranny.” (Venerable Fulton J. Sheen)

  • Reading 1 – Isaiah 22:19-23      God will remove Shebna from his office as master of the palace.
  • Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 138:1-3,6,8      God’s kindness is forever.
  • Reading 2 Romans 11:33-36      Paul sings praise to God.
  • Gospel Matthew 16:13-20     Simon Peter acknowledges Jesus as the Christ and is given the key to the Kingdom of Heaven

NOTE: To gain clarity of understanding in all of the following scriptural passages that have many inline footnotes, first read only the purple colored scriptural words in the passage. Then re-read the passage along with the green colored inline footnotes.

Reading 1     Isaiah 22:19-23                        (The Gift of Authority)

Context – The keynote of the Book of Isaiah is salvation (Isaiah’s name means “Jehovah saves”). He was the prophet of the southern kingdom, Judah, and lived at the time (ie. 742 – 687 BC) when the northern kingdom, Israel, whose capital was Jerusalem, was destroyed. At this time all that was left of the old kingdom of David was Judah, which included the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and the Levites. He prophesized for 64 years. He prophesized doom  for a sinful Judah and Israel and for all the nations of the world that oppose God. Then, he prophesized God’s restoration of the nation of Israel, including Judah, and this is interpreted by Christians as prefiguring the coming of Christ. After the Psalms, Isaiah is the Old Testament book most quoted in the New Testament.

Today’s Reading – The prophet Isaiah is delivering God’s judgment to a disgraced public official, Shebna, who supports Israel’s military alliance with one pagan nation (Egypt) against another (Assyria). The failed alliance is disastrous for Israel, which the prophet attributes to a failure to trust in the Lord alone. Shebna will therefore be removed from his position of trust and honor and a successor named – Eliakim. The Lord promises, “I will give over to him your authority….  I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder” (Isaiah 22:21, 22). The basis for conferring this symbolic key of power is of course Eliakim’s perceived trust in the Lord God alone.

Thus says the LORD to Shebna, master of the palace: “I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station. On that day I will summon My servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. (This reflects the quality of his rule. He will care for them like they are his own children.)  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. I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honor for his family.” (This is the same process and power that Christ conferred on St. Peter, when He gave him the keys of heaven – See Gospel, below.)

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          We can learn from God’s replacement of Shebna with Eliakim and not put too much hope in our leaders and not enough in our God that He will resolve the problem of poor leadership.  

Responsorial Psalm.     Psalm 138:1-3,6,8                           (God’s Eternal Love)

Today’s Psalm –  In this hymn of thanksgiving, the Psalmist, unlike Shebna in Reading 1, above, places his confidence in God.

R. – Lord, Your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of Your hands.
I will give thanks to You, O LORD, with all my heart, for You have heard the words of my mouth; in the presence of the angels I will sing Your praise; I will worship at Your holy temple.
R. – Lord, Your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of Your hands.
I will give thanks to Your name, because of Your kindness and Your truth: When I called, You answered me; You built up strength within me.
R. – Lord, Your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of Your hands.
The LORD is exalted, yet the lowly
(respectful) He sees, and the proud (self-righteous) He knows from afar. (See PAUSE, below) Your kindness, O LORD, endures forever; forsake not the work of Your hands.
R. – Lord, Your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of Your hands.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          The LORD is exalted, yet the lowly (respectful) He sees, and the proud (self-righteous) He knows from afar.Our Lord is a good role model figure, for authority behavior, for our leaders  in the way they should relate to all of the people.

Reading 2.     Romans 11:33-36                      (Eternal Glory)       

Context – Paul’s Letter to the Romans is the most influential of all his Epistles, and the only writing of Paul’s which is addressed to a church (congregation) which he did not establish. He addresses the grounds we have for hope in Christ. Sin and death came by Adam: grace and life by Christ. The saving work of Jesus is a major theme of Paul’s letter to the Romans – salvation is offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Today’s Reading – God’s riches and fullness, His wisdom and knowledge, are highlighted in this passage. God’s riches convey the sense of overflowing abundance of a God whose very being, whose love and fidelity, can neither be contained nor limited. As the Scripture attests, God’s ways of doing things are often not our ways. One can only respond with awe to God’s mysterious ways. God’s knowledge and understanding surpass all human designs. God’s wisdom is something we receive as a gift from Him through the Holy Spirit.

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?” (Isaiah 40:13) “Or who has given the Lord anything that He may be repaid?” (Job 35:7  and 41:11) For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen. (This is much like the doxology we hear at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer “Through Him, with Him, in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is Yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever. Amen.”)

PAUSE  and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           “Or who has given the Lord anything that He may be repaid?” – Here is another good example of God’s good role model for authority behavior by not ever having to repay anyone for His position or actions. 

Gospel     Matthew 16:13-20                (The First Pope)

Context – Matthew’s Gospel, written prior to 70 AD, is the first book of the New Testament, not because it was written first – some of Paul’s epistles take that honor – but because it is a bridge between the Old and New Testaments. His purpose was to  prove to his fellow Jews that Jesus is the One to whom all the Jewish prophets point: the Messiah, the Christ, the King of the Jews. To accomplish his mission He uses more Old Testament quotations and references than any other Gospel.

Today’s Reading –  Almost as a fugitive from His enemies, Jesus took His disciples to the far northern extremity of Jewish influence, the most northerly place Jesus visited – the region of Caesarea Philippi. At this place, as far from Jerusalem and Jesus’ opponents as possible, Jesus proceeded to give them important revelation concerning what lay ahead for Him and them. Here Peter would make the great confession of the true identity of Jesus, whereas in Jerusalem to the south the Jews would deny His identity.

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (The title “Son of Man” is a title which Jesus applies to Himself, it is never applied by His disciples. It refers back to Daniel 7:13.) They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah (Even today when the Passover Seder is celebrated in the Jewish household, a place is set for Elijah.) , still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ (Messiah, Anointed One by God), the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. (Recall that it was Jonah who announced the impending destruction of Nineveh and successfully effected repentance of the people. This could be an early symbol of Peter’s role. ) For flesh and blood (human beings) has not revealed this to you, but My heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter (rock), and upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of the netherworld (Prior to Jesus’ resurrection, due to Original Sin all the souls of the dead went to this place called the netherworld.) shall not prevail against it (The gates of the netherworld will not prevail because even if the occupant of the office dies, the office will continue.). I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind (forbid, declare to be improper and unlawful) on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose (permit, declare lawful) on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Again just as in Reading 1, where the power to open and shut were given, here the ability to bind and loose are given. Notice that the binding and loosing are initiated on earth but are confirmed in heaven.)  Then He strictly ordered His disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ. (He wished that the people would believe Him to be their Messiah, but His hour had not yet come and  the apostles were not yet fit to deliver, nor the people to receive, this grand belief. Plus it might moreover have proved a hindrance to His death.)

PAUSE  and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           Just as in Reading 1, the office of Peter is a perpetual office; in fact it is the same office which was once occupied by Shebna and Eliakim. The position continues even though the occupant changes. Each occupant of the office of Peter is invested with the keys and the responsibility to bind and loose for the entire Church. This is why the popes are called the “Successors of Peter.”

The primacy of Peter (which each of his successors hold) is not an invention of the Church. It is something granted by Christ Himself. The failures of some popes throughout history do not contradict Jesus’ promise that “the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church.” Peter himself failed the Lord.  In giving authority and primacy to the one who will deny Him, Jesus is communicating to us that His Church was not established on human strength, but on His own divine love and faithfulness. The Church’s true foundation is Christ Himself.  The Pope is His servant.

Abraham was called “the rock” from which the children of Israel were hewn (see Isaiah 51:1-2). And Peter becomes the rock from which God raises up new children of God (see Matthew 3:9).

Catechism 153 – When St. Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus declared to him that this revelation did not come “from flesh and blood”, but from “My Father who is in heaven”. Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by Him. “Before this faith can be exercised, humankind must have the grace of God to move and assist them; they must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and ‘makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth.'”

Catechism 1445 – The words bind and loose mean: whomever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will welcome back into His. Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God.