How rich are the depths of God – how deep His wisdom and knowledge – and how impossible to penetrate His motives or understand His methods!
This is how St Paul opens in our epistle Reading (Second Reading) this Sunday. St Paul was one who directly saw the unfolding of the mystery of God’s plan for His kingdom. However, it was St Peter — and his successors — that the kingdom was entrusted to, which we’ll see this Sunday in our Gospel.
Let’s start with the First Reading, which might need a little “clearing up” in terms of understanding. I’ll lay it out simply. There was a king in Israel, one from the House of David. David and the kings after him in his line had royal stewards of the household (or “masters of the palace”) — think of them like the prime minister in the United Kingdom. The current king in our First Reading, Hezekiah, had a royal steward named Shebna who the Lord decides to remove from office because he was guilty of nepotism. The Lord decides to replace Shebna with a man named Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah.
Look at the language that God uses to describe Eliakim’s future status as master of the palace:
I invest him [Eliakim] with your [Shebna] robe, gird him with your sash, entrust him with your authority; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the House of Judah. I place the key of the House of David [or “kingdom” of David] on his shoulder; should he open, no one shall close, should he close, no one shall open. I drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will become a throne of glory for his father’s house.
This sounds like He’s making Eliakim the king, right? No. That’s not what God is doing. In fact, the king at the time, Hezekiah, receives no threat to his authority because of this. Eliakim is just “deputy king,” so to speak, under Hezekiah, but looking after the House of David (the kingdom of David) on behalf of the king is no easy task.
By the way, the post of master of the palace was not just a one-time thing. This was an office that was never vacant for too long. If the current person would leave it then somebody else would take it up and be invested with the authority that comes with it.
Now, Isaiah 9:1-7 and Isaiah 11:1-5 (among many others) had promised that a king (the “Christ”) would come from the line of David and rule over the ends of the earth for evermore. Do you know a guy that fits that description? Exactly! “Jesus Christ, the Son of David…” (Matthew 1:1).
Well, this Son of David, in our Gospel this Sunday, is about to appoint His royal steward; His own master of the palace to look after His own House (kingdom).
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi He put this question to His disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say He is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ He said ‘who do you say I am?’ Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said, ‘the Son of the living God.’
Peter, by divine inspiration, gets it right!
Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’
If you understand what was going on in our First Reading, then you will easily understand that, in our Gospel, Jesus is setting up Peter as His royal steward, what we now call “Pope!”
First, Jesus changes Simon’s name to “Peter,” which means “rock” in Greek (think about the French words Pierre and pierre or the Spanish words Pedro and piedra, which have evolved a little more but still retain the same root). Then Jesus clearly makes Peter, the rock, to be the foundation that Jesus will build His Church on (Peter makes no threat to Jesus’ authority either, just like Eliakim). Already we can see that the Church (or kingdom, or “House”) belongs clearly to Jesus, just like the kingdom used to belong to Hezekiah, but is entrusted to Peter and built on him; the rock.
Second, Jesus assures Peter of the victory of His Church. Many make the argument that evil will never overcome the Church based on this verse. Although that happens to be true, this verse says something a little different. “And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it.” What this says is that the gates of the underworld will never be able to hold us, the true Church of Christ, out from the underworld, the world of sin. In other words, Jesus has clearly told us that we need to march right into the filth of the world, with and behind Peter, and call people to live out the Gospel unto their true happiness and fulfilment! Do you catch the difference? It’s subtle, but so important and so empowering!
Third, Jesus gives Peter the keys of the kingdom. I know, now it’s really explicit! Just like Eliakim was given the key to the House (or kingdom) of David, now Jesus is giving it to Peter. In Revelation 1:18 we see another mention of “keys” and they apparently have authority over the gates of Hades (the underworld). This verse also clearly shows that it is Jesus who possesses these keys.
In Revelation 3:7 we see this key of David spoken of explicitly and it’s Christ who has it because it’s the same person speaking as in chapter 1! See for yourself,
The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens.
Not only does Jesus have the key of the House of David but it also says the same thing of Him that it said of Eliakim: “…should he open, no one shall close, should he close, no one shall open!”
This brings me to my fourth point. Peter is also given this power and authority of binding and loosing or opening and closing when Jesus uses the phrase that means the exact same thing: “…whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.”
Thus Jesus instituted the papacy of the New Covenant by appointing Peter as the prince of Apostles, our first Pope. Since Peter, the office of the Papacy has always been kept alive and occupied to this day under Pope Francis. If you don’t dwell under the authority of the royal steward, the Pope, then you don’t dwell in the House of God.
The Pope is our sign of unity as Catholics. Let us pray for him daily and revere him. He holds the highest authority on the planet and carries the government of the kingdom of God on his shoulders. How blessed are we to be his children and call him “Holy father!”
I shall end with the words of St Cyprian who said it perfectly so many years ago in AD 251:
On him He builds the Church, and commands him to feed the sheep [Jn 21:17], and although He assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet He founded a single chair [cathedra], and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were also what Peter was [apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, by which it is made clear that there is one Church and one chair. . . . If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he think that he holds the faith? If he deserts the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he be confident that he is in the Church?
See you next week on Seeking the Word!