Sunday, August 23, 2020

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time: On this Rock I will Build My Church

Today's readings remind us that Jesus has authority and that He used that authority to found the Church on Peter.

The first reading is a key reading that is used in apologetics to defend the papacy. We read how Eliakim will be clothed with a robe and sash. These represent the priesthood and authority. Eliakim will be given the "key of the House of David." In other words, he will be give complete control and ownership of the kingdom of David. What he opens, no one will shut and vice-versa. Does this sound familiar? If you were thinking of Matthew 16 verses 18 and onward, then you are correct. Here we see a foreshadowing of the papacy. The idea of the key or using robes and sashes is not new. God has always intended to have some mystical body on earth that took on a visible form. In the Old testament, it was Israel. In the New Testament, it is the Catholic Church. The major difference is that Israel was a preparation for the new covenant formed in Jesus' blood. Israel is to be incorporated into this new mystical body, the Church. This is why we read in Revelation that 144,000 and a multitude of many nations and races will be saved. 

The 144,000 are the Jews or the 12 tribes of Israel and the multitude that no one can count is from the Catholic Church. Remember, Catholic means universal. This Church has members from every race and gender. It is also the largest religion on earth. This has always been God's plan. This is why in the Responsorial Psalm we read, "Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands." We all know God did no such thing and will not do such a thing. This is why we give thanks to God with all our heart. God hears the words of our mouths, or our prayers. We worship Him in His holy temple, the Church with the Blessed Sacrament; His true presence. God is always there for us, blessing us, giving us strength. God is God, and despite this, He seeks the lowly and ignore those who are proud. Why God does these things boggles the mind, but not the mind of those who understand true love. 

The second reading tells us that God's judgments and ways are inscrutable and unsearchable. Who has known God's mind? Who has been God's counselor? Who has given something to God that He had to repay?  These are valid questions. God is a mystery. Atheists often mock theology's lack of scientific inquiry and dismiss it as nonsense. In a sense, they are correct. What I mean by this is that theology serves more for us to ask questions and formalize the little we know of God than to actually study God.  No one can truly know God or understand God totally. We can only work with what He has revealed.

Finally, in the Gospel we read of how Jesus asks the disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"  They replied that people were saying that He was John the Baptism, Elijah, Jeremiah or another prophet of old. However, He asks them directly who do they think He is. Peter solely replies stating that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  After this, Jesus changes His name from Simon to Peter, which means Rock. The Rock - No not the WWE Wrestler and Jumanji actor! 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. 

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 knowledge, 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. 

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. 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 in Isaiah 22:20-22.  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 Hezekiah. 

While Peter was indeed an Apostles just like the other 11, he still had a unique role.  In the New Testament, Peter is mentioned by himself 155 times as opposed to the other Apostles who are mentioned together 130 times.  Peter is mentioned first in the New Testament (Matt. 10:2; Mark 1:36; 3:16; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 2:37; 5:29).  Coincidence?  Not at all.  It is human custom to name the most important person in a group first.  This custom is still used today in the 21st century.  We will always announce a President, Queen or King, Principal, or University President first before others. 

Peter was the only Apostle invited by Jesus to "walk on water," literally (Matt. 14:28-29)  This shows that Jesus had a particular plan for Him in mind and was preparing him by giving him a lesson on what it means to be faithful even when one is surrounded by turbulent waters and wind. 

As the leader of the Church, Peter and his successors must be strong in faith even if it means contradicting the world.  The world would say not to walk on water because you will sink and drown; however, if God says to do it, even if it makes no sense, we have to do it! 

In John 21:15-17, Jesus specifically commands Peter to feed his sheep and lambs.  He asks Peter if he loves Him three times and then commands three times to feed his sheep and lambs.  This was a foreshadowing of the three times Peter would deny Him (John 18:15-18)  This also shows that no matter how weak Peter was, this did not take away from his authority or validity as Pope.  Despite being called "Holy Father," the Pope is still a sinner and subject to personal failings.  Nevertheless, his office remains firm and valid despite the failings of the man holding it. 

Peter was also a direct target of Satan.  In Luke 22:31-32 Jesus tells Peter that Satan wanted to sift him up like wheat.  This shows that Satan was aware of the importance of Peter and wanted to strike at him directly.  The evidence from Scripture alone is overwhelming in regards to the primacy of St. Peter. 


The Early Christians had this to say:

"The blessed Peter, the chosen, the preeminent, the first among the disciples, for whom alone with himself the Savior paid the tribute, quickly gasped and understood their meaning. And what does he say? ‘Behold, we have left all and have followed you’. - Clement of Alexandria 

"For though you think that heaven is still shut up, remember that the Lord left the keys of it to Peter here, and through him to the Church, which keys everyone will carry with him if he has been questioned and made a confession of faith" - Tertullian

"Be it known to you, my lord, that Simon [Peter], who, for the sake of the true faith, and the most sure foundation of his doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church, and for this end was by Jesus himself, with his truthful mouth, named Peter, the first fruits of our Lord, the first of the apostles; to whom first the Father revealed the Son; whom the Christ, with good reason, blessed; the called, and elect" - The Letter of Clement to James

"Be it known to you, my lord, that Simon Peter, who, for the sake of the true faith, and the most sure foundation of his doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church, and for this end was by Jesus himself, with his truthful mouth, named Peter" - The Letter of Clement to James

It is obvious that Peter had a significant role as Pope in the first century up to his death whereupon St. Linus took over the Papacy.  No academic or historian denies this historical truth. The Eastern Orthodox Church has issue with the Papacy mainly because of authority. This is sad indeed because we are not in the Church to obtain status or power.  Yes the Pope is a bishop just like the bishop of New York, Boston, Puerto Rico, Madrid or Los Angeles; however, he has a unique role as the successor of Peter.  The Pope is the leader of the Church and keeps the Church united. It is like the US President. Yes, he is a human American citizen; however, he was elected to hold a specific office. So while he may be an American like every other American, he has a special duty assigned to him by via his or her election and the US Constitution. With the papacy, the election lasts until a pope dies or retires. 

There is no valid reason based on Scripture, Tradition and History for anyone to not accept the authority of the Papacy as it is defined or the primacy of St. Peter.  This is the way Jesus wanted it. The Scripture prove it. History and Sacred Tradition proves it as well. No one can judge a pope. This is why those Catholics who attack the pope while calling themselves "traditionalists" are not traditionalists at all. Those who go further and deny a pope is a pope are simply creating their own religion and not practicing Catholicism.  We may not alway agree with what a pope says or does when speaking outside of ex cathedra or magisterium, or what analogies he may use to make a point, but we have to be obedient to him and submit to his authority; not because we are blind sheep, but because Jesus controls and runs the papacy, not the visible man dressed in a white cassock. The Catholic Church is Jesus' bride. He will not let her fall apart. 


Let us pray for the Pope always:

O God, the Shepherd and Ruler of all Your faithful people, mercifully look upon Your servant Pope Francis, whom You have chosen as the chief Shepherd to preside over Your Church. We beg You to help him edify, both by word and example, those over whom he has charge, that he may reach everlasting life together with the flock entrusted to him. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.


Readings: https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/082320.cfm


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