21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading: Isaiah 22:19-23

Second Reading: Romans 11:33-36

Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20

We have come across or heard of people in power who, instead of caring about the problems of the people, look only after their own interests, favor relatives and friends and use the money of the people to enrich themselves. The same thing happened also in the time of Isaiah.

King Hezekiah was the ruler of Israel then. His trusted minister, a certain Shebna, began putting up a marble monument using public funds. God, through Isaiah, chose Eliakim, who was good and capable, to replace the minister. The first reading describes the ceremony which went like this: the king tore off the mantle and belt from the undeserving king’s minister and put the belt and mantle on the newly appointed Eliakim and then, he placed the keys of his palace on the shoulders of the new minister. The key was put on the shoulders because in ancient times, the keys were very large and heavy and had to be carried on the shoulders.

The first reading prepares us to understand the gospel of today where we are told that Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter. This symbolizes the conferring of full power 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 of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Jesus conferred power and authority on Peter after hearing Peter’s response to his query “Who do people say that I am.” He told Peter: “You are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my Church.” It is Jesus who will build his Church. This passage is crucial for a proper understanding of what the Church is, and our role in the Church. For this is the most explicit statement that Jesus makes in the Gospels about the Church.

First, it tells us that the Church belongs to Jesus. The Church does not belong to Peter nor to the disciples. Priests and church leaders who think and act as if they own the church are like farm workers who go about posing as if the farm belongs to them. All of God’s people, all of us, have been called together as co-workers in Christ’s vineyard. But we do not own the Church. We belong to the Church. The owner is Christ. Hence, we have to take care of this Church that belongs to Christ. We have to be each other’s keeper.

Second, the gospel passage tells us that Jesus is the one who builds his Church. He is the master builder who has the building plan in his hands. Human co-operators are like carpenters employed by the master builder to help him with the building. Our role is to listen and follow his instructions, doing our small part in the grand design of the master. Workers who stick to their own ideas of what the building should be rather than to follow the directives given by the master may find themselves working at cross purposes with the master. Hence, the importance of prayer.

Now, if Jesus is the owner and builder of the Church, where then do we come in? We come in precisely where Peter comes in. Together with Peter, we are the building blocks of the Church. Peter is the foundation rock and we are the pieces of stones with which the Church is built. We are the living stones.