21st Sunday - homily
I ask to imagine the following scenario, and I underscore the word, ‘imagine’ because it won’t be real. Imagine that you’re watching TV later tonight, flipping through the channels. You come upon a replay of the Redskins’ game last night (oof, if only that was imaginary)…blow past that channel. You go the movie channels, and then hit the news channels. On one of the news channels, who do you see being interviewed but….Jesus! You can’t believe it! He’s right there! Now, again, this is imaginary – if it were real, it’d be the Second Coming and the end of the world…!
He’s being asked about all kinds of stuff – current events, issues, teachings. And, this is different from what you’re used to hearing on the news channels – opinions from experts or pundits who try to spin things to fit their agendas. You are hearing the truth! And you rejoice when you hear what Jesus is saying about the different issues or teachings, like abortion or the war, because you know you are hearing the truth. Why does Jesus have this authority? Why do we know that whatever he says is the truth? Because he is the Son of God. Everything he says is true, and we follow whatever he says.
Now, the amazing thing about this Gospel passage is that Jesus gives his authority and power to Simon Peter! One of the saints, John Chrysostom, said these powers “belong to God alone”. And yet, Jesus gives this power to Simon Peter. It is the power to speak and teach for Heaven. So, it would be like us flipping through the channels and seeing St. Peter or one of his successors – like Pope Benedict – being interviewed and speaking the truth as Jesus would speak the truth.
Jesus not only gives this great power to Simon, he changes his name to Peter which means “Rock”. That is a great name – Rock! He says you are ‘Rock and on this Rock (on you) I will build my church’. He makes him the leader of the Church. He also gives him the power to bind and loose. Bind means ‘forbid’ and loose means ‘allow’. It means that Peter has the power to impose or lift punishments regarding the law. In addition, he gives him the ‘keys of the kingdom’. In the first reading, Eliakim receives the keys to the House of David and he can open and shut the House as he sees fit. Likewise, Peter is the controller of the household of God.
We see Jesus give similar power to all of the apostles in Matthew 18. So, Christ gives the Apostles and their successors have the power to teach, govern, and sanctify as he would teach, sanctify, and govern. The Church continues to teach for Christ.
Do we follow the Church’s teachings as we would follow the teachings of Jesus? When we hear the Church’s teachings and views in matters of faith and morals, we are hearing Jesus’s teachings and views. In Luke 10, he says to the Apostles, “whenever they hear you, they hear me”. The Church and Christ are one in their teachings.
Earlier this year at about the time the Pope was coming to Washington, I spoke with a man who had had with the Church because of the priests’ scandals from years ago. He said the Church had no more credibility or authority, in his view. I listened to him; he made some fair points. But, then he went too far when he said that the Church had lost all moral authority. I reminded him of this Gospel passage and others in pointing out that, as bad and awful as those things were involving the scandals, they didn’t take away the divine authority the Church has to teach doctrine. To his credit, the man honestly admitted that he didn’t know about this Gospel and that Jesus gave such authority to the Church. Now, we’re not saying that Peter, the Apostles and their successors are perfect; we are saying that whenever they teach on faith and morals, they are speaking without error. They are speaking for Heaven.
Finally, whenever I hear this Gospel, I think of the Eucharist. Jesus asks the Apostles, ‘who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ It would be like him asking us, ‘who do people say that the Eucharist is?’ We would answer him, ‘some say a symbol, others say a representation.’ In a few minutes, when I elevate the Eucharist at the consecration, He will be asking each of us, ‘who do you say that I am?’ May each one of us say in our hearts as we gaze upon the host, ‘you are the Christ, the Son of the living God’.