Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Isaiah 22:19-23; Psalm 138:1-3, 6, 8; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20

First Reading: In this excerpt from the book of the prophet Isaiah, Isaiah addresses the need for integrity and right intention as the allures of power and authority seem to necessitate a personnel shift in the king’s palace. Shebna is removed and replaced by Eliakim and God is the giver of authority.

Psalm 138: Psalm 138 is a psalm of thanksgiving and extols God’s fidelity and attentiveness to covenant promises.

Second Reading: In the second reading, St. Paul is grappling with the mystery of why most Jews have not accepted the Gospel. This wonderful meditation on the mystery of God concludes the sequence of readings we have heard about the Jewish people. God’s ways are beyond our understanding. We can only wonder and trust in the wisdom of God

Gospel: In today’s Gospel, Jesus chooses Peter as a leader for his people, whereas God chose Eliakim (in the first reading). Peter is chosen not because of his leadership potential, but rather because of his ability to listen to the voice of God. Peter is called the “rock,” but the strength of the Church built upon him does not come from Peter, but rather from God.

Reflection: Today’s gospel begins with a seemingly straightforward question that Jesus puts to his disciples about his identity, and it ends with Jesus revealing how he will build his church. Jesus uses people, not bricks and mortar, as the “rocks” of his foundation.

At Caesarea Philippi, a site known for its revelations to biblical ancestors Enoch and Levi, Jesus inquires of his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Their responses indicate that Jesus is perceived as a prophet who has returned to instruct the people in God’s ways. When Jesus asks “But who do you say that I am?” Peter replies “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This faith affirmation of Jesus’ divine identity sets the stage for establishing Peter as leader and key officer of the assembly (church) of Jesus’ followers. Jesus assures Peter and the others that God is the source of their revelation. Because of such faith, Peter is established as the rock upon which Jesus’ followers will build, but is also given the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever would be decided among Jesus’ community, God would stand behind it, and nothing would ever overpower the community.

Such power and authority conferred on Peter and Jesus’ community could easily be abused, mistreated, or misdirected. That is why Jesus does not permit them to speak about his identity until they understand it more completely. That proper understanding will involve the willingness to suffer and die so that others may live. True power and authority rest in loving service to others, not reveling in authority over others.

Question for reflection: Has God established me as a “rock” through my discipleship?

Copyright © 2017, Scott W. Eakins. All Rights Reserved.

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