ST PETER: BETWEEN INSPIRATION AND AUTHORITY
The first reading of today tells us, “I place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; should he open, no one shall close, should he close, no one shall open” (Isa. 22:22 ). In the Gospel, Jesus gives the ‘Key’ to Peter, thereby building the Church on him ‘the Rock’ (in spite of his human failings). Similarly, the second reading reveals to us that the reason for Jesus’ choice of Peter lies in the unfathomable depth of God’s wisdom. That is why the Responsorial Psalm says, “the Lord is high yet he looks on the lowly” (Psa. 137:6). According to St Paul, it is impossible to penetrate the motives of God or understand His methods (Rom. 11:33).
Dear brothers and sisters, let us remember that last two Sundays, God called us to always cry out and stretch out our hands for Jesus to save us (Mat. 14:30). Last Sunday, He made known to us that this salvation wrought by Jesus is for everyone (cf. Mat. 15: 21-28; Isa. 56: 1. 6-7). Today therefore, God tells us about the power in His Church to set this salvation in motion. This He makes known by handing over ‘The Key’ to St Peter.
I WILL GIVE YOU THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN !
Jesus promised “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” to Peter because, Peter could recognize His person. When Jesus asked the question, “who do people say that the Son of man is?”, we see immediately in the responses of the disciples, a replication of ‘alii alia dicunt’ (some say this, others say that). But to tell us that even the disciples were not free from the general opinion of the people about Jesus, they all kept silence when Jesus made the direct request from them, “who do you say that I am”?. At this, it was Peter who recognized Jesus as the messiah (anointed one) and the Son of the living God (Mat. 16:16). Dear brothers and sisters, the ‘keys’ of the kingdom of heaven was given to Peter because he recognized Jesus for who He is. Different people have said different things about Jesus: For the rationalists, Jesus never existed but was only a product of the imagination. Others say that He was a mere man and so existed. For the moralists, Jesus was an ethical teacher, and His teaching (especially the Sermon on the Mount) is the supreme example for that. Some others said that Jesus has a Messianic vision, and many others. G. K. Chesterton observed that each of these explanations in itself appears to be individually inadequate. But when taken together, they suggest something of the very mystery which they miss. Beloved friends, God ‘forbid’ that the notion of Jesus we have is that which the general public (including the pagans) have about Him, and which is inadequate to explain Jesus who is our Lord and Master.
On the other hand, when Jesus talks about this ‘key’ of the kingdom, what does He mean? This statement means some kind of very special power given to Peter. Also, in the New Testament, the ‘key’ is regularly attached to Jesus. For instance, the risen Christ is described as “the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens” (Rev. 3:7). The risen Christ also says, “I have the keys of Death and of Hades” (Rev. 1:18). These New Testament pictures and usages point to a picture in the first reading by prophet Isaiah, “upon his shoulder I will place the key of the house of David: what he opens, no one shall shut; what he shuts, no one shall open” (Rev. 22:22). Here, Jesus points to the fact that in the days to come, Peter will be the steward of the kingdom. Peter manifested this at the Pentecost (Acts2:41), to the Gentile centurion Cornelius (Acts 10), at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:14), etc. This promise that Peter would have the keys to the kingdom implies that he would be the means of opening the door to God for thousands upon thousands of people in the days to come.
The Church in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (see nos 552 – 3), teaches us that Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve (Mk 3:16; 9:2; Lk 24:34; I Cor 15:5); this is because, Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him. Through a revelation from the Father, Peter had confessed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Our Lord then declared to him: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). Christ, the “living Stone” (I Pt 2:4), thus assures his Church, built on Peter, of victory over the powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed, Peter will remain the unshakeable rock of the Church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it (Lk 22:32). Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”( Mt 16:19). Let us remember that the “power of the keys” designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21:15-17; Cf. 10:11). The power to “bind and loose” connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles (Cf. Mt 18:18) and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom. Note that Jesus handed this authority to Peter today because he was inspired by the Father and he responded. Are you ready and willing to respond to divine inspirations?
We have the following lessons from today’s celebration: Firstly, can you boast of knowing who Jesus is? Jesus is the solution to every human ill: He is the healing God to the lepers, liberating God to the demon possessed, life-giving God to the Jairus’ daughter, forgiving God to Magdalenes, Saving God to Us-the sinners, etc. The question remains: who do you as a person say that Jesus is? The answer should be for your personal sober–reflection. But do not forget, unless you have an inspired understanding and appreciation of who Jesus is, you will not actually and convincingly be a true Christian. You cannot gain this inspiration if you are not open to the Spirit of God.
Secondly, how obedient are you to the authorities of St Peter and those of the apostles handed down to the Pope, Bishops, and Priests? The three duties of the ordained (tria munera) are: ‘Munus docendi’ (the duty to teach, based on Christ’s role as Prophet), ‘Munus sanctificandi’ (the duty to sanctify, based on Christ’s role as Priest), and ‘Munus regendi’ (the duty to shepherd, based on Christ’s role as King). According to Pope Benedict XVI, these “are the three actions of the Risen Christ, the same that he teaches today, in the Church and in the world. Thereby he creates faith, gathers together his people, creates the presence of truth and really builds the communion of the universal Church; and sanctifies and guides”. I do not know how you as a person respond positively to these authorities handed on to the Church through St Peter for the growth of God’s kingdom. In the history of the Church, and in recent times, there have been people who openly disobeyed these authorities. May God help us to be obedient, doing all things in total resignation to the will of God without complaining or arguing (Phil. 2:14)! May our Blessed mother Mary teach us how to obey God ‘in whole’, and not just ‘in part’(Lk 1:38).
Finally, the Lord has placed in the hands of the Church through St Peter, the power to bind and to let loose (Mat. 16:19). No wonder after His resurrection, Jesus added to this authority by empowering His disciples thus: “Receive the Holy Spirit! Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; those whose sins you retain, they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23).
Beloved friends, may we ask the Lord today to grant us the grace always to cherish the Church handed on to us through the apostles. May we always respect the authorities of the ministers of the Church as divinely instituted. In a special way, may everyone of us have a personal identification of the person of Jesus in our lives as individuals, in the life of the Church, and in the lives of various families and communities. By establishing a closer bond with Jesus, we shall always love the Church because Jesus is the head of the Church (Col. 1:18). Our prayer today through the Collect is: “O God, who cause the minds of the faithful to unite in a single purpose, grant your people to love what you promise, that, amid the uncertainties of this world, our hearts may be fixed on that place where true gladness is found. Amen!
Peace be with you !