Reflections on the Readings
Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 21, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins
Revealed by the Spirit
And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven."
Congregations dividing and splitting is an unfortunate reality in history and in our time. I can't help thinking it is because today's gospel is not truly understood. And when it is read or preached on, the gravity of the passage is not fully explored or is misapplied. It surely is obvious that it has nothing to do with the thirty or forty thousand churches and counting of varying independent groups or denominational affiliations. However, many a local pastor has preached on this as referring to his local congregation being the church against which the powers of death would not prevail and to which the keys of the kingdom have been given.
Let's look at this gospel with new eyes.
First, Jesus commissioned Peter to teach, guide, and nurture the Church. It is to Peter the Father reveals the nature and identity of Jesus. Common opinions described Jesus as John the Baptist come back from the dead. Others thought he might be Elijah come back to life or Jeremiah or one of the other popular prophets of Israel's history. Varying descriptions of Jesus abound today ranging from profound respect and reverence to mediocre sentiments. But then Jesus asks, "But who do you say that I am?" And it is Peter who replies, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
The Holy Spirit helped Peter to see Jesus for who he truly is. This is where the deposit of faith, that which we believe and know about Jesus, is first revealed: Jesus is Son of man and Son of God; he is the Christ! The faith begins with Jesus and his revelation of the Father and the Holy Spirit they give. As Peter looked around into the faces of his fellow disciples, a new awareness of the man who called them from their fishing nets, and tax collecting pierced their hearts.
Second, in this gospel we learn that Jesus changes Simon's name to Peter, meaning a rock or stone. It is believed that Jesus spoke these words in Aramaic. This means he changed Simon's name to Kepha or Cephas. Kepha means a 'sizable rock' - a size suitable for a foundation. A name change often meant a fuller and deeper revelation of God to his people. Abram for instance is renamed Abraham and Jacob is renamed Israel. A new direction and covenant in salvation history often accompanied a name change. This exchange between Jesus and Peter is such an epoch in salvation history. The fulness of salvation is in Christ and his Church - Peter himself being the foundation; Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone! (Ephesians 2:20)
Every house builder knows the importance of a good foundation. Any substantial structure must be built upon a proper foundation or it will not endure. Jesus picks Peter to be such a foundation for the Church. I understand this seems far fetched to my non-catholic brothers and sisters. But remember, our Lord, in order to safeguard the Church of the Living God from schism and division, elevated Peter to lead the Church in the revelation that he confessed, that is, Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God! And that brings me to my third point.
Jesus gave Peter the keys of the kingdom. The keys represent the authority of the Church to teach the true meaning of the Sacred Tradition and Scripture, to dispense the grace of God in its sacraments, and to govern the Church of Jesus Christ in the immense love of him who loved her and gave himself for her. It is Peter who first held these keys and every successor of him will do so until time shall be no more.
The sacred deposit of faith is under his jurisdiction. Therefore, what we believe and how we worship and what constitutes sound doctrine is not open to every wind of change that blows. The Magisterium is the teaching authority of the episcopacy in union with the Pope; it is the Magisterium which keeps and guards and communicates the faith which was first delivered to the saints. (Jude verse 3) The sacred deposit of faith, found in the Catechism of the Church, is the sacred legacy of that which Peter and those first Apostles received and faithfully taught the church. Subsequent Church Councils have convened to keep the teaching of the Church free from error. From these Councils came the creeds we profess. And at these Councils is where the deep truths of the deposit of faith were mined and articulated. The most recent Council, Vatican II, continues to guide the Church and her witness in this age of the Church.
Peter in his first epistle reflects on the spiritual temple in his charge. He reminds us that our true food to help us grow in our salvation is found in the pure spiritual milk given by the Church; the body and blood of the Lord. It is here, in the Church, where we first encounter the kindness of the Lord. Like living stones we must allow the master builder, Jesus Christ to form and shape and place us into the spiritual house which is his Church. Peter no doubt remembers Jesus' promise of building his Church. It must have been magnificent to be the first to hear, "And the gates and powers of death shall not prevail against it." Peter continues, "And like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (see 1 Peter 2)
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! Amen.