Sunday Homily, August 23, 2020

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Fr. Claude Perera, OMI


First Reading: Isaiah 22:19-23
Deposing of Shebna from His Office and Substituting Him with Eliakim

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 138:1-3,6,8
In Praise of God’s Steadfast Love

Second Reading: Romans 11:33-36
Paul Praises Divine Wisdom.

Gospel Reading: Matthew 16:13-20
Peter’s Confession of Jesus as Messiah and His Investiture as the Head of the Church

Background on the Gospel Reading

All through past Sundays, we have been reading the Gospel of Matthew. In today’s Gospel, Jesus asked His disciples about His identity. Various answers were given, but only Peter has comprehended the identity of Jesus, namely, that he was the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus commended him for this revelation inspired by the Spirit of God. Because of that Jesus told him the meaning of Peter’s name which was ‘Rock.’ For the name Peter in Greek was Petros meaning ‘rock.’ Then Jesus declared Peter as the foundational rock on which the Church was going to be built. Furthermore, he was also given the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven which signifies that he holds the authority in the ecclesial community. That was a public declaration of his role as the spokesperson and leader of the ecclesial community. His authority was further extended by giving him power to forgive sins in the name of Jesus.

It is important to read today’s Gospel in relation to next Sunday’s Gospel as the two form a single story. In fact, these events are the turning point in the Gospel of Matthew. This week we heard how Jesus named Simon Peter as the rock on which He would build His Church. Next week we shall hear how Jesus calls this same Simon Peter “Satan” when he failed to accept Jesus’ first prediction of His passion and death. In today’s Gospel, Peter is commended for recognizing Jesus’ Messianic identity. Peter was credited as the foundation of the Church. It was an honour given to him because he was able to recognize Jesus’ Messianic identity as the Son of God. This positive declaration was possible because it was revealed to him by God’s Spirit. But in next Sunday’s gospel, the contrast will happen, namely, Jesus rebukes Peter when Peter rejects Jesus’ first prediction of His passion and death. There Peter is no longer said to be inspired by God, but he thinks as humans do. That is why Jesus rebuked him saying, “Get behind me, Satan, you are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.”

When both these gospel texts are taken together, there is a parallel situation in the first reading of today. There, Isaiah is sent by God to Shebna to say that he has been denounced from his offices as the Steward and as Master of the Household of King Hezekiah. These were two key posts in the palace. The post of Steward or Treasurer had the authority of ordering all the civil and domestic affairs of the royal palace. This meant that he had the keys of the treasury, stores, and provisions. The Latin version of the Bible (Vulgate) calls him the governor of the temple. Some have understood it to mean that he was in-charge of the sanctuary, and the temple. Others think that he was a high priest or a governor of the temple. Whatever it may be, it was it a top position in the royal palace. Shenna was going to be ripped off his post and Eliakim was to be replaced by him. Why was Shebna so punished?

Shebna was a proud man. What did he do with his high positions? He built for himself a comfortable and prestigious mausoleum which was a symbol of prestige, power, and wealth which he always sought after. Thus, Shebna became a symbol of Jerusalem’s obsessive self-interest at that time. Isaiah had prophesied that the Kingdom of Judah would be carried away into exile, but they did not believe it. So did also Shebna. He built an empty mortal monument for himself to live for eternity comfortably after death in Jerusalem. He wanted to rest safe in his marble tomb. Without being taken into exile. But he met with a tragic end as prophesied.

Both Shebna and Eliakim served at the palace of Hezekiah. Shebna sought selfish ambition and vain glory and he was an unfaithful servant of God, while Eliakim was a faithful servant whose heart was constantly turned towards the LORD. The post which Shebna held in the palace was taken away from him and given to Eliakim. The large master key of the royal palace which was a symbol of authority was taken away from Shebna and fastened on the shoulder of Eliakim’s outer garment.   Now, Eliakim was empowered to open and shut the doors of the palace as the divine representative, with no one to oppose him, except God. Thus, Eliakim was a type of prefiguration of the Messiah.

Christ, the Messiah Son of God hands over the keys of his household, the Church to Peter. He was invested with the power of binding and losing, namely, the power to forgive and retain sins of people. Peter remained faithful to his stewardship. But if he ever had been tempted to be unfaithful, he would have been deposed. But after the resurrection and Pentecost, Peter was always faithful to his duty as the leader of the Church. That was how he remained the head of the College of Apostles until his martyrdom. Popes and bishops are their successors who are loving administrators of Church who feed the flock and guide them assisted by priests, religious, and lay leaders. They are not angels, but human beings made of flesh and blood, born of human parents. Therefore, they are prone to sin and temptations. They are like your brothers and sisters with similar family backgrounds. They need your care and support. They need your prayerful aid very much because they have been entrusted with a spiritual mission in a world which is losing its spiritual heritage. They need to stand above this materialistic rat race. The devil with his snares is trying to trap them to do things contrary to their sanctity. Jesus found fault with Peter because he was thinking in mere human ways. Church leaders are pointers at heaven. They are the lighthouses of heaven. Fleets of human caravans shipwrecked in turbulent seas look to them for direction. Church leaders cannot afford to be humanists who see life merely from a human point of view. Their mission is to transcend the earthly peripheries and mindsets. Careerism and clericalism can creep into their minds. Let us pray for them, cooperate with them, help them, and even fraternally correct them if they go wrong.   

Happy Sunday! Bon Dimanche! Buona Domenica! Schönen Sonntag! Gelukkige Zondag! Szczęśliwej Niedzieli! Sretna Nedjelja!

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