21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A
1st Reading - Isaiah 22:19-23
At various times we have reviewed the three author theory for the Book
of Isaiah, the last time being the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time for
this cycle. The first reading for this week comes from the first
portion, that which has been attributed to Isaiah himself by all
scholars. But are there really three authors? Aside from scholarly
interests, Jewish-Christian tradition has always recognized Isaiah as
the human author of the entire 66 chapters.
After the Psalms, Isaiah is the Old Testament book most quoted in the
New Testament: 22 quotations and 13 references (six to the first part
of the book and seven to the second) and all the references refer to
Isaiah by name.
Three documents testify to the Book of Isaiah having its present form
between the second and third centuries B.C. These are the complete
Hebrew text discovered in 1947 (the Dead Sea Scrolls), the Greek
translations of the Septuagint, and the praise of Isaiah in the Book of
Sirach which refers to chapters 40, 51, and 66.
Our reading for today is important in understanding how the
king’s household (and kingdom) were operated. It goes without
saying that we all understand that when the king died, he was replaced
by his eldest son (the firstborn, the blessed). But what about all the
other positions in the kingdom? What if some official died or
wasn’t performing up to expectations?
[Thus says the LORD to Shebna, master of the palace,]
This introductory material comes from Isaiah 22:15. The Hebrew word
soken, translated as “master,” is not found anywhere else
in the Old Testament. Non-biblical uses in similar languages support
its use as “master of the palace” rather than as
“scribe” or “secretary of state.” A similar
position today would be something like Prime Minister; the minister to
whom all the other ministers report.
19 I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your
station. 20 On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of
Yahweh is speaking – this is indication of a new day – a new beginning.
21 I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority.
He will have your distinctive methods of dress, the trappings of your position; as well as the authority which goes with it.
He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.
This reflects the quality of his rule. He will care for them like they are his own children.
22 I will place the key of the House of David
The key is the absolute symbol of authority over the entire royal
palace, in fact, the entire kingdom of David although David himself has
been dead for some two hundred years. He who possesses the key has the
ability to open the door to whomever he desires and to lock out others.
on his shoulder;
This may represent the actual investiture ceremony.
when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open. 23
I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honor for
The family shares in the privileges of the official. Notice that
although the occupant of the position has changed, the position itself
has remained unchanged.
2nd Reading - Romans 11:33-36
Today’s second reading continues from where the second reading
for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time left off. Saint Paul is pointing
out how the Jews will attain salvation through the example provided by
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How
inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!
Saint Paul is exclaiming, not in awe and fear, but in wonder and
gratitude, at the boundless providence of God in arranging the mutual
assistance of Jews and Gentiles in attaining salvation. Israel’s
role in the divine plan of salvation may never have been otherwise.
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his
counselor?” 35 “Or who has given him anything that he may
Saint Paul is quoting Isaiah 40:13.
“It is clear that only God knows everything and it is only He who
lacks nothing, because everything comes from Him. No one can understand
or measure this knowledge, because the inferior cannot comprehend what
is superior to it. Jewish believers could not understand that the
salvation of the Gentiles could be God’s plan and will. Likewise,
it seemed unlikely and incredible to the Gentiles that the Jews, who
had not believed, could be converted or accepted as believers.”
[The Ambrosiaster (ca. A.D. 366-384), Commentaries on Thirteen Pauline
Epistles Romans 11,34]
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
This is a doxology to God the Father as creator, sustainer, and goal of
the universe. The prayer expresses the absolute dependence of all
creation on God. It is much like the doxology we hear at the end of the
Eucharistic Prayer “Through him, with him, in him, in the unity
of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for
ever and ever. Amen.”
Gospel - Matthew 16:13-20
While Shebna may have proven not to be a worthy steward of the Davidic
kingdom, Simon the fisherman has shown himself worthy of a new mission
of stewardship in the Davidic kingdom; a kingdom which now has Jesus as
its sovereign. As signs of this new mission of stewardship, Simon is
given a new name and the symbol of his office as master of the palace.
13 When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples,
The area where this event is believed to have taken place is at the
headwaters of the Jordan River, at the site of a temple to the pagan
god Pan. There is a large stone cliff there with the temple carved into
it and a spring which feeds a stream which discharges into Lake Merom
(which feeds into the Sea of Galilee which feeds into the Jordan River
which feeds into the Dead Sea). This site exists even today.
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
The title “Son of Man” is a title which Jesus applies to
Himself, it is never applied by His disciples. It refers back to Daniel
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist,
John the Baptist has recently been beheaded. If he has returned, he
would have special powers and be able to perform the miracles which
Popular Jewish thought was that Elijah would return to announce the
coming of the messiah [Malachi 4:5 (Malachi 3:23 in the New American
Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible)]. Even today when the Passover Seder
is celebrated in the Jewish household, a place is set for Elijah.
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Jeremiah is the prophet who in his own experience of rejection and
suffering announces the rejection and suffering of the messiah.
15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter said in reply,
Although all the disciples had been addressed, Simon takes it upon himself to act as the spokesman and answer for them all.
“You are the Messiah,
The name means “anointed.” Although various figures in
ancient Israel were anointed, the term came to be applied most
distinctively to kings. Some writings in Jesus’ time used the
term to describe Israel’s future leader in the period before and
during the end times; he would fulfill Israel’s hopes based on
the Son of the living God.”
Jesus has a unique consciousness of His sonship. Saint Matthew uses
this relationship to direct attention away from the military-national
connotations of the title “messiah.”
17 Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
Recall that it was Jonah who announced the impending destruction of
Nineveh and effected repentance of the people. This could be an early
symbol of Peter’s role.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 18 And so I say to you, you are Peter,
In Aramaic the word is kepha, in Greek it is petros. The name means
“rock.” No one had ever been named “Rock”
before. Some will point out that petros means small stone while petra
means large bolder in Greek. The text reads “You are petros and
on this petra ...” Petra is the feminine form of the word and the
Church has enough problems without the sacred author calling Peter
effeminate. The usage in Greek at the time of Christ did not make a
distinction in the meaning of the masculine and feminine forms of the
word. In Aramaic, the language which Jesus spoke, kepha has no gender.
You will see kepha transliterated as Cephas (Kephas) in John’s
gospel, 1st Corinthians and Galatians.
and upon this rock I will build my church,
The Greek term ekklesia is found only here and in Matthew 18:17 in the four gospels.
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
The netherworld is sheol in Hebrew, hades in Greek. It is the abode of
the dead; where all departed souls go at the end of their earthly life
since heaven has been closed from the time of Adam and Eve and will not
be opened until the perfect sacrifice of the messiah. The gates of the
netherworld will not prevail because even if the occupant of the office
dies, the office will continue.
19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Just as in our first reading, the keys are the symbol of authority
– given only to the most trusted servant – the Prime
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Again just as in our first reading where the power to open and shut
were given, here the ability to bind and loose are given. This is the
ability to make the earthly rules for the Church – not change
God’s rules, but make the rules which implement His rules. He has
full authority on earth, an authority which is bestowed and guaranteed
by God. The earthly Church is related to the heavenly kingdom as it
mediates salvation in the time between the earthly ministry of Jesus
and the future coming of the heavenly kingdom. Binding and loosing are
rabbinic technical terms that can refer to binding the devil in
exorcism and the juridical acts of excommunication and of definitive
decision making (which is a form of teaching through legislation and
policy setting). The authority to bind and loose is given to the
disciples in Matthew 18:18, but to Peter alone are accorded the
revelation, the role of the rock of foundation (see Ephesians 2:20),
and especially the keys. Notice that the binding and loosing are
initiated on earth but are confirmed in heaven.
20 Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.
By counseling His disciples to be silent, Jesus avoids false
interpretation of His messiahship as He prepares them for the
instructions that are to follow.
Just as in our first reading, the office of Peter is a perpetual
office; in fact it is the same office which was once occupied by Shebna
and Eliakim. The position continues even though the occupant changes.
Each occupant of the office of Peter is invested with the keys and the
responsibility to bind and loose for the entire Church. This is why the
popes are called the “Successors of Peter.”
The Magisterium of the Church, in the First Vatican Council, defined
the doctrine of the primacy of Peter and his successors in these terms:
“We teach and declare, therefore, according to the testimony of
the Gospel that the primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church was
immediately and directly promised to and conferred upon the blessed
Apostle Peter by Christ the Lord. For to Simon, Christ had said,
‘You shall be called Cephas’ (John 1:42). Then, after Simon
had acknowledged Christ with the confession, ‘You are the Christ,
the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16), it was to Simon alone
that the solemn words were spoken by the Lord: ‘Blessed are you,
Simon Bar-Jona. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but
my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this
rock I will build my church, and the powers of hell shall not prevail
against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what you loose
on earth shall be loosed in heaven’ (Matthew 16:17-19). And after
His Resurrection, Jesus conferred upon Simon Peter alone the
jurisdiction of supreme shepherd and ruler over His whole fold with the
words, ‘Feed my lambs ... Feed my sheep’” (John
“(Canon) Therefore, if anyone says that the blessed Apostle Peter
was not constituted by Christ the Lord as the Prince of all the
Apostles and the visible head of the whole Church militant, or that he
received immediately and directly from Jesus Christ our Lord only a
primacy of honor and not a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction: let
him be condemned.
“Now, what Christ the Lord, supreme shepherd and watchful
guardian of the flock, established in the person of the blessed Apostle
Peter for the perpetual safety and everlasting food of the Church must,
by the will of the same, endure without interruption in the Church
which was founded on the rock and which will remain firm until the end
of the world. Indeed, ‘no one doubts, in fact it is obvious to
all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, Prince and head of the
Apostles, the pillar of faith, and the foundation of the Catholic
Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Savior and the Redeemer of the human race; and even to this time
and forever He lives,’ and governs, ‘and exercises judgment
in his successors’ (cf. Council of Ephesus), the bishops of the
holy Roman See, which He established and consecrated with His blood.
Therefore, whoever succeeds Peter in this Chair holds Peter’s
primacy over the whole Church according to the plan of Christ Himself
[...]. For this reason, ‘because of its greater
sovereignty,’ it was always ‘necessary for every church,
that is, the faithful who are everywhere, to be in agreement’
with the same Roman Church [...].
“(Canon) Therefore, if anyone says that it is not according to
the institution of Christ our Lord Himself, that is, by divine law,
that Saint Peter has perpetual successors in the primacy over the whole
Church; or if anyone says that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor
of Saint Peter in the same primacy: let him be condemned [...].
“We think it extremely necessary to assert solemnly the
prerogative which the only-begotten Son of God deigned to join to the
highest pastoral office. And so, faithfully keeping to the tradition
received from the beginning of the Christian faith, for the glory of
God our Savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion, and for
the salvation of the Christian peoples, We, with the approval of the
sacred council, teach and define that it is a divinely revealed dogma:
that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when,
acting in the office of shepherd and teacher of all Christians, he
defines, by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, doctrine
concerning faith or morals to be held by the universal Church,
possesses through the divine assistance promised to him in the person
of Saint Peter, the infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed
His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine concerning faith or
morals; and that such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are therefore
irreformable because of their nature, but not because of the agreement
of the Church.
“(Canon) But if anyone presumes to contradict this our definition
(God forbid that he do so): let him be condemned” (Vatican I,
Pastor aeternus, chapters 1, 2 and 4).
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, MS http://www.scborromeo.org