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21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Isaiah 22:19-23
Psalm 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8 (8bc)
Romans 11:33-36
Matthew 16:13-20
August 23, 2020

Jesus asks the question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  I pose a slightly different question, why do you think He asks.

Jesus is not running for election.  So, He’s not checking the polls to see how He is fairing.  He isn’t concerned about popular opinion.  He is only concerned with doing the Father’s will.

So, why does He ask the question?  I think He wants them to be talking about who He is, not just what He has been doing. 

People are indeed talking about him, wondering if He is one of the prophets returned. 

Jesus then moves from asking his disciples what others have said to what they think, saying, “But who do you say that I am?

Of course, Peter is the one who answers, and he gives a great answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Peter gets it!  He gets that Jesus is the long-awaited messiah, the Christ

How does Peter know these?  Jesus provides the answer, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” 

Yes, Peter has witnessed what Jesus has done as “flesh and blood.”  These acts clearly show Jesus as a powerful man (hence those who identify him with the prophets) but something more is needed to get from human actions to “the Christ.” 

As Paul says of God, “How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord.”  God gives us the gift of reason.  He wants us to use reason to see him in creation and in what He does for us.  Still, reason alone is not enough to move from Jesus as a human to Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of Living God.

We make this leap of faith because God chooses to reveal himself to us.  Peter has begun to make this leap.

Hearing Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, Jesus knows it is time to assign Peter his role.  He says specifically to Peter, “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.”  Jesus does not say this to all the disciples.  He says it specifically to Peter.  Peter is to be leader of the disciples.  He is to the first Pope.  He is not Christ but he is to be the vicar of Christ. 

The symbolism of the “keys” is essential here.  Who is in charge?  The one who has the keys.  You can’t do anything if you can’t open the door.

Peter is given the keys to Heaven.  Isaiah speaks of the keys to the House of David.  Shebna had been the “master of the palace.”  He holds the keys.  Yet, he fails in his duties so God calls another, Eliakim.  He invests Eliakim with the robe and sash as symbols of the authority He gives to Eliakim.  All priests today wear a chasuble (robe) and stole (sash) as symbols of their role as priests.

But not all priests are given the keys, that is for one alone.  For almost 2,000 years, the popes from Peter to Francis have served as the holder of the keys. 

It hasn’t always been a perfect situation.  There has been corruption in the church.  Not to make excuses but the popes are human too.  They alone do not entirely know “the mind of the Lord.” 

Thus, they are not infallible in all things.  The pope is not infallible in all the little things of daily life.  The Church does say (Vatican I) the pope speaks infallibly on matters of “faith and morals.”  Even then, the pope is not infallible on his own.  He is infallible in consultation with the bishops and most importantly guided by the Holy Spirit.

How has the Church survived for 2,000 years through scandal and human sin?  The church has survived because of the work of the Holy Spirit. 

God has not called us to be a bunch of individuals, each choosing on our own beliefs.  No, we are called to be a united people. 

We prayed in our opening prayer, “O God, who cause the minds of the faithful to unite in a single purpose.”  What is that single purpose “fixed on that place where true gladness is found?” 

It is to do God’s Will.  We are to be a united people.  Having one pope over the whole church is to be a point of unity.  A bishop is in complete charge of his diocese but does not act in isolation but with the whole church with the pope over all as the vicar of Christ.

Where would we be without this unity?  Would the church have ever survived?

Just look at the secular world.  Is there any real unity?  Where has it led society to think that everyone is free to choose to do whatever they want? 

Yes, God has given us the freedom to do whatever we want.  We call it free will and it is a gift.  We use a gift well when we use it as it intended. 

The pope is not just a figurehead.  He is our leader, let us pray that the pope is always led by the Holy Spirit as he leads our church as the holder of the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.

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