Sunday, August 24, 2014

Rock, Keys and the Church - 21th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today's readings gives us some insight on Christ's authority, the Papacy and role of the Church.

In the first reading from Isaiah, we read about how Eliakim the son of Hilkiah will be clothed with a robe, girded with a sash and how authority will be given to him. At the time, Hezekiah was the king of Judah and descendant of King David.

He has a priest named Hikiah who had a son named Eliakim. Eliakim was one of King Hezekiah's ministers. Just like in some nations with monarchs today, the royals had prime ministers or administrators who helped run the kingdom and represented the king. Shebna had this role until ousted because of being unworthy. Eliakim was given this role as prime minister or vicar.  In the reading, we see the attributes one must have in order to be this prime minister:

1) the office or role
2) a robe and sash
3) the throne
4) the keys

Eliakim is given the key of the House of David which will allow him to open something no one can shut and shut something no one can open.  The first three are pretty much self explanatory. The office is the position of prime minister, the robe and sash shows this authority aesthically, and the throne shows authority. What about the keys?

Keys are an important tool in human society. They can lock and unlock things.  Keys are also a sign of possession or ownership.  If I have the keys to a house, car, motorcycle or bank vault; I control them - I own them.  As long as I hold the keys and no one else does, I have absolute authority.  I can also pass down the keys to someone else.

Now hold this thought until I get to the Gospel...

The responsorial Psalm praises God reminding us that His love is eternal and he doesn't forsake the work of His hands; us. Now God doesn't have hands like we do because He is spirit. The use of the word hands is metaphorical using anthropomorphic language to better given a mental image in a way human beings can understand.

The second reading tells us that God is the source of wisdom and knowledge and that no one can understand His judgments or ways. St. Paul asks "who has known the mind of God?  Who has been His counselor?  Who has given to the Lord that He needs to pay back?"  The answer to these question is: no one.  No one can truly understand God, His will, judgments and so forth. This is why atheists, philosophers and others have issue understanding how evil can exist in the world if God is good. They cannot understand the way God handles things or why God allows evil to even take hold in the world.  St. Paul tells us that everything comes from God and that we do everything in Him. This reading is important because it shows us how God sometimes does things that makes no sense to us.  We will see in the Gospel how this is demonstrated.

In the Gospel, Jesus asks the disciples who they think He is and they reply to Him saying that some believe Him to be John the Baptist, Elijah or another prophet.  They didn't really answer the question, so He asks them again who THEY think He is, not what others thought. Simon answers for them saying, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."  Jesus then tells Him that only God has revealed that to him. No other person could have told him that.  Then Jesus does something strange.  He tells Simon that He is rock and on this rock He will build His Church.  The gates of hell will not prevail against this Church, Jesus says.  Furthermore, He tells Simon that He will give him the keys of the kingdom which will allow him to bind something or unbind it.

Do you see something familiar?  If you thought about the first reading, then you are correct!

Jesus gives Peter the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, what does this mean?  Is Jesus going on vacation and is giving the keys to his place to a mortal?  No, not at all.

Jesus as a descendant of King David is imitating the gesture of King Hezekiah (who is also a descendant) in Isaiah 22:20-22 (first reading).  Hezekiah gives the keys to the kingdom of the House of David to his servant Eliakim.  In the Jewish biblical tradition, this gesture grants royal dynastic authority and shows succession as the leader or prime minister of the House of David.  By giving Peter the keys to His kingdom, Christ is giving Peter the authority to represent Him and the authority to change things or leave them as is.  The key is also referred to in Revelations 3:7.  This is further evidence that Jesus was in fact doing the same as King Hezekiah.  He has the authority to do this.

Moreover, Jesus changes Simon's name to "Rock" or "Peter." This is significant because in Scripture the rock image is always used to represent the Lord (Psalm 18:31).  The changing of one's name shows a promotion of status.  For example Abram becomes Abraham (Genesis 17:5). Jesus did this to show that Peter was to be His representative or vicar on Earth.  This is why the Pope is the "Vicar of Christ."  He does not replace Jesus as if Jesus resigned or was a failure, rather, he stands in for Jesus as the visible head of the Church and chief shepherd.  In Matt. 17:24-25 tax collectors approach Peter asking him if Jesus pays taxes.  Peter here is demonstrated as the representative of Christ, or the Vicar of Christ - the prime minister.

Some claim that the Greek word "petra" means pebble and not rock; however, the New Testament was written in Koine Greek and the word "petra" and "petros" means simply 'rock.'  All scholars agree with this.  Had Jesus wanted to call Simon "small rock or pebble," the appropriate word would have been "lithos."

To further give more evidence to what Jesus actually meant, we must remember that Jesus did not speak Greek.  He spoke Aramaic.  The word Jesus actually used in his native tongue was, "Kepha" which means 'rock.'   Peter is the rock upon which Christ built His Holy Catholic Church.  To my knoweldge, there exists no Bible - with the exception of the Watchtower that alters texts - that states, "You are Peter and on this small stone/pebble I will build my Church."  This is a clear indication that the use of the word "rock" was intentional.

Moreover, have you noticed that Popes wear a sash? This is symbolic of the first reading showing the authority of the Pope via vestments.  This is probably why Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (a theologian) doesn't use the sash while Pope Francis does showing that while he is a Pope, he is not the Pope in power.  Pope Emeritus knows his Bible! :-)  

The Pope is the successor of Peter who is the Rock.  It is not a coincidence that his bones were found underneath St. Peter's basilica.  Jesus was extremely serious when He said that He would build His Church on Peter!  This is exactly what happened!    



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