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Twenty-first Sunday – Year A – Ordinary Time
Readings: Isa 22:15, 19-23; Rom 11:33-36; Mt 16:13-20.
1/ Reading I: RSV Isaiah 22:15 Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, “Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him: 19 I will thrust you from your office, and you will be cast down from your station. 20 In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, 21 and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. 22 And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. 23 And I will fasten him like a peg in a sure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house.”
2/ Reading II: RSV Romans 11:33 O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
3/ Gospel: RSV Matthew 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” 14 And they said, “Some said John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
I. THEME: All authorities come from God.
We are living in the world which the respect for authority is in crisis, from the family to society and even in the Church. The reason for this is the theory of absolute freedom which thinks everyone is equal; no one can force others to do what they don’t want. We can see this crisis in the Vietnamese family; from whomever the parents want their children to get marry they must obey to the point that whomever the children want to get marry the parents must agree. In the parish, from whatever the pastor commands the parishioners must do to the point that if the parishioners don’t want that pastor, they can cause pressure with the local bishop to move him from the parish. This crisis is also in the Church, from the believers must listen to whatever the pope teaches because he is God’s representative in the world to the point that they can freely criticize him as old, strict, odd and insult all of his teaching.
Today readings help us to recognize the origin and the necessary of the authority and shall help us to respect and to listen to our parents and leaders. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah emphasized that the authority comes from God. When He no longer wants Shebna to be the Prime Minister, he gives that authority for Eliakim, Hilkiah’s son. In the second reading, St. Paul was startled when he meditated about God’s richness, wisdom and understanding. No one can fathom His decisions and ways. Therefore, the human duty isn’t about to question God, but to be humble and to follow His decrees. In the Gospel, Christ established His Church on Peter who is the rock, and gave him the authority to lose and to bind through the symbol of the key of the heaven. He solemnly promises that “the powers of death shall not prevail against it.”
1/ Reading I: The origin of all authorities
1.1/ All authorities come from the Lord: God has the power to bestow authority and to take it away; no one can resist Him. The authority is taken away and given to other when the authorities insulted God, didn’t listen to Him or neglected their duties.
In today passage, the Lord said to the prophet Isaiah, “Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him: I will thrust you from your office, and you will be cast down from your station. In that day I will call my servant Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.”
The reason for taking away Shebna’s authority might be because of his luxurious lifestyle or his connection with the foreign authority, Egypt, and disregard God’s will, revealed through His prophets. God has authority, not only on His people but also on all the world’s leaders. We can prove this point in the Old Testament when God chose Cyrus, the Persian king, to issue the decree to liberate the Israelites from the exile, to return and to re-establish their lost country.
1.2/ When God gives authority, He also gives wisdom and strength for those in power: The key is the symbol of authority; when God gives the key to someone, He trusts and bestows His authority on that person. The one in authority governs people under him in the place of God. That is the reason why God said to Isaiah, “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him like a peg in a sure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house.”
Those who received God’s authority must serve His people well; they become like a father for people who are under them. The father’s duties are to serve, to care and to protect his children; not to be served by them or to maltreat them.
2/ Reading II: No one can fathom God’s wisdom and ways.
The background for this passage is Paul’s effort—trying to understand God’s plan of salvation. Before Christ’s appear to him on the way to Damascus, like many Jews, he thought the Gentiles have no place in God’s plan. After this appearance, he understood that even the Jews’ hardness is in God’s providence so that God’s salvation can extend to all people of all nations.
2.1/ People often evaluate things according to their appearances: Since people can only see the outside, they evaluate things according to their appearance, such as: strength, age, beauty, position, richness, degree; but many people judged wrongly because they can’t see what are inside, such as: reverence for God, love for people, knowledge, temperament and virtues. The appearance can hide many bad things inside and deceive people.
Though God can choose leaders and send them to people; He chooses to enlighten people by His Spirit so they can choose good leaders for themselves. People should pray with the Holy Spirit to guide them with wisdom before every election. Even when people chose bad leaders, God still can provide opportunities for them to correct their mistake and to choose better leaders.
2.2/ God can see thorough human minds and hearts: Since God fathoms human minds and hearts, no one can deceive Him. God chooses leaders according to His standards and His decisions are always right. St. Paul gave us the reasons for God’s right decisions, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid?” For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.”
When God chooses anyone to lead His people, He also gives him necessary graces to fulfill his mission. Therefore, the leader’s duty is to always open to God’s graces and pray for them; as King Solomon prayed for the divine wisdom so that he can govern God’s people. If a leader neglects to seek God’s guidance, he can fall into disgrace and can’t fulfill his mission.
In the history of Israel and of humankind, so many times people made wrong evaluations about things happened in the world. The main reason for these is because they used human instead of God’s standards in evaluating them. They paid attention to outside appearances instead of looking into inside values. They forget to pray to God who can fathom all past, present and future; all three are one before Him.
3/ Gospel: Christ bestowed on Peter the authority to govern the Church.
3.1/ Many different opinions about Jesus’ identity: Jesus’ Passion is near, and he wants to make sure his disciples to know his true identity. First, he wants them to know others’ opinions about him, so he asked them, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they answered, “Some said John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then, he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Peter is the first one who recognized and proclaimed Christ is the Son of God because he didn’t see Christ according to his appearance as the contemporaries, but he looked at him according to God’s revelation. Similarly, when the Catholics look at the pope and the Church’s structure, they shouldn’t consider him purely as a worldly leader and that structure as many other structures, but the representative of God in the world and the structure according to God’s will.
3.2/ “I shall build my Church on this rock”: Many biblical scholars argued, “Who is the rock in this sentence?” There are many different opinions:
(1) To the Jews, the rock is only applied for God (Ps 18:2, 31; Dt 32:4, 31; I Sam 2:2, II Sam 22:2). St. Augustine also agreed with this position.
(2) Others thought the rock is “the truth;” and Peter is the first who discovered and proclaimed this truth.
(3) Still others thought the rock is Peter’s faith in Christ; and because of this faith, the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
Each opinion gives us a different view about Peter. He is the one chosen by God. If God is the rock, He also makes Peter to be the rock which the Church shall be built upon it. The rock is also the truth and Peter’s faith in Christ which no power in the world can destroy them.
3.3/ Different opinions about Peter’s and his successors’ authority: Christ said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Many churches and people through all generations argued the meaning of this sentence and the pope’s infallibility. Many point out that this is the main reason that prevents many churches to unite together, not the differences in their doctrines. Many churches are afraid that once they return to the Church, they must obey the pope’s authority.
3.4/ Arguments about the pope’s infallibility: The infallibility of the pope was formally defined in 1870, although the tradition behind this view goes back much further. In the conclusion of the fourth chapter of its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Pastor Aeternus, the First Vatican Council declared the following, “We teach and define that it is a dogma divinely revealed that the Roman pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, that is when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, by the Divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals, and that therefore such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves and not from the consent of the Church infallible. So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema. Vatican Council I, Constitution de Ecclesiae Christi, chapter IV (see Denziger §1839).
The dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, which was also a document on the Church itself, explicitly reaffirmed the definition of papal infallibility, so as to avoid any doubts, expressing this in the following words: “This sacred Council, following closely in the footsteps of the First Vatican Council, with that Council teaches and declares that Jesus Christ, the eternal Shepherd, established His holy Church, having sent forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father; and He willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world. And in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, He placed Blessed Peter over the other apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion. And all this teaching about the institution, the perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and of his infallible magisterium, this sacred Council again proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful.”
Many people denied the pope’s authority and infallibility in this verse (Mt 16:19); but the fact that they can’t deny is the pope’s authority and the Church continues to exist more than two thousand years. This fact shows the correct interpretation of this verse.
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– Out of love for human beings, God always prepares to give people good leaders to guide them in all difficult situations.
– We need to obey parents, teachers and religious and civil leaders to safeguard the common order in our family, communities and society.
– God gives authorities to serve and to protect the common good, not to be served or proud of it. All leaders must be responsible for people they serve and judged by God.
– The Catholics must use their eye of faith; they must absolutely obey and believe the pope when he declares anything ex-cathedra.