“And so I say to you,
you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth
shall be loosed in heaven.”
From Sunday’s Gospel Matthew 16:13-20
When I arrived at St. Mark’s I met with Johnny our Physical Plant Director and he had a huge ring with many keys on it. He asked me if I wanted a key to every building and room. I told him just give me the main ones and be prepared to open the doors when needed. It was than, when I saw the great number of keys representing the many meeting rooms here, that the weight of being pastor of such a large parish sunk in! Today’s Gospel reminds us of the one who was given the the ultimate keys, those to God’s kingdom. In the foyer of our church we have a stunning rendition of Peter holding keys in his hands, keys symbolizing the authority entrusted to him to lead the Church.
It was Simon, whom Jesus now called Peter, that correctly surmised Jesus’ true identity in Matthew 16:16 when he said: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” The name Messiah means the Anointed One; the title “Son of God” differs from “Son of Man” by indicating the divine nature of the Christ. The name Peter means rock in Latin, and it is the strength of Peter’s faith that would lay the foundation of the Church. It is only in Matthew chapters 16 and 18 that the word church, or “ekklesia” in Greek, appears. This is significant to remind us that Jesus intended for there to be a church, a gathering or assembly of believers who would worship together and form one another into deeper faith and charity.
In the first reading it is Eliakim who replaced Shebna as the master of the palace. Shebna had used some of his authority for self advancement. Gosh, we wouldn’t know anything about that in today’s times would we? Eliakim, like Peter, however, had the heart of a shepherd. As we reflect upon today’s readings we ask ourselves, “how do I exercise the authority I have been given in my workplace, family life or church community?” Like Peter, we are called to lead by example. Though beset by his own faults and shortcomings, Peter remained faithful to the end, dying a martyr’s death. May we embrace the roles we play in our lives by seeking to serve and not be served as we live out our own Christian calling.