To read the texts click on the texts: Is 22:19-23; Rom 11:33-36;Mt 16:13-20
A story is told of John XXIII who was Pope during the turbulent 1960s when it seemed that everything in the Church was falling apart. There was a crisis in the priesthood, in religious life, in married life, in faith, indeed in the Church. The Pope worked long and hard hours trying to address these problems. One evening, after an exhausting day in the office, he went to his private chapel to do his daily Holy Hour before retiring but he was too exhausted and too stressed out to focus or pray. After a few minutes of futile effort, he got up and said, “Lord, the Church belongs to you. I am going to bed.” Yes, the Church did and continues to belong to Christ. Peter and every one of us are the rocks on which the Church is built, but he is the builder.
There is a striking parallel between the first reading from the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel text of today. The prophet denounces the master of the palace, Shebna, and says that the Lord will place another, the more worthy servant, Eliakim, in his place. Eliakim will have binding authority over David’s house, and the Lord will make him secure.
The text from Matthew portrays a similar investiture of power and authority. Jesus renames Simon as Peter, which means ‘Rock’ – the foundation on which he will build his Church. Though there is still some debate about who the rock is – Peter or Jesus, if one remembers that it is Jesus who builds, then one will not have too much difficulty with accepting Peter as the rock. Peter will also receive the keys of the kingdom and be given the power to bind and to loose, which will be ratified in heaven. The foundation for which authority and confidence is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Somewhat paradoxically, having altered Mark to enhance the role of Peter and make him the recipient of divine revelation and foundation of the Church, Matthew leaves virtually intact the subsequent misunderstanding of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection by Peter whom Jesus rebukes as “Satan” who “is not thinking as God does, but as humans do. This is an indication of how weak the foundation can be. The same Peter who was declared “blessed” a few verses earlier is now regarded as being against Jesus and all that he stands for. The whole story portrays blessedness on the one hand and brokenness on the other. It portrays insight on the one hand and lack of insight on the other. So the dangers are enormous. The Church has always been in danger of becoming one of the powers that it has been called to confront. That reality is lived out in history – on a grand scale, but also in each of us. Power, pomp and glory are very seductive.
Thus this incident which, in Mark, celebrates a turning point in recognizing who Jesus is, because in Matthew a celebration of what the Church is. Peter is representative, but it is significant that it is precisely Peter who represents. He is chosen as a leader, but he and the others are to be the Church, the community, who will be called to feed the multitudes and bring them God’s compassion.
They will also be the community who will often fail, and fall short of what it means to be Ekklesia or “those who are called out”. They will sometimes side with the powerful against the weak and with the “haves” against the ‘have-nots’. They will sometimes sink because of the fear that overwhelms them and because of their lack of faith, but they continue nevertheless to be called to be that “contrast community” who will show by their words and actions that the community of Jesus continues to be alive and that negative forces or evil can never overcome it. The Church, the historical and spiritual reality that Jesus is creating, is his and his alone. No one can create another Church. Christ’s Church can be built on no other foundation. We constantly relive this Gospel story, When we, like Simon, say to Jesus, “you are the Christ,” he says to each of us, “You, too, are Peter; you too are a rock, and with you I am building my Church.” What happened to Peter continues to happen to us.
Paul is clearly aware of this and so in his hymn to Divine Wisdom he affirms that it is only because of the active wisdom of God working in the world that the Church can continue to be faithful to the promises of Christ. The depth of God’s wisdom and purpose are a marvel.
This idea is reiterated by the Psalmist who acknowledges God’s unfailing love and faithfulness and his immediate answer to the prayer of a humble heart. God, in Jesus, is a God who constantly stretches out his hand to save the lowly.
Thus the idea that comes through powerfully from the readings is that it is indeed God who builds even if on weak human structures. Without his sustenance nothing can really stand.