Daily Reflection
to Prepare for Sunday

August 25th, 2002
Larry Gillick, S.J.
Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality
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Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time 
Isaiah 22:15, 19-23
Psalm 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8
Romans 11:33-36
Matthew 16:13-20

For a more prayerful celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy and reception of the Word, we might picture in our memories a time of passage.   Maybe it was the time you received the keys to your first house or apartment.   Perhaps you remember the first time you gave the keys of your car to your son or daughter.    Maybe you can picture when you received the desk or tools or counter for your first job.

We also can imagine how Jesus, knowing the fragility of the Apostles, still turned over the keys of authority and wisdom to Peter.  Peter is getting a new job and what would we say to him after Jesus gives him his new name?


The Hebrew word, kahal which Matthew uses in today’s Gospel, meant “called” or “chosen.”  The Greek translation moved the meaning over to “assembly.”  We call it “church.”  We can pray with all the meanings of this important word. 

We could ask the grace to be called more clearly to be in the assembly and receive more directly the gifts God has given us to share in God’s service.  We could pray for the freedom from inferiority which prevents us from accepting and donating ourselves to God’s family. 


The prophet Isaiah has harsh words in today’s First Reading, for Shebna, the palace secretary.  Shebna has set himself up a lofty position, not in keeping with his true status.  Apparently he has used his position to ingratiate himself and his family.  In those days as in our own, there was also this tremendous temptation to misuse an office for personal gain.  Palaces were large corporations in those days and Shebna was falsifying the books.  Isaiah foretells his downfall from his office and then presents a picture of his replacement who will be a true servant of God.

Eliakim will be given the keys and the robe of the office which will bring honor back to Jerusalem and the family of God.  He will use authority justly and his decisions will be sure.  He is receiving the call to accept and share what God offers him.

The Gospel pictures Jesus passing authority and title to Simon Peter.  This fisherman has responded to his call; now he is asked to exercise responsibility.  Peter and the early followers of Jesus learned quickly that relationship with God had implications.  Jesus lived this form of intimacy and he was passing it on to his followers, the early assembly.

We will see Peter in next Sunday’s Gospel try to back away from these implications; the combination of fears and faith are not just a modern twinning.  The “keys” which Jesus entrusts to Peter are not those of power and domination, but of wisdom and compassion.  Peter is the “rock” which is a play on his name, but he is nothing without his relationship to Jesus and the other Apostles.  Much can be made of the “loosening” and “binding” which attend the gift Jesus offers Peter.  Those words can provoke fears of who will be “in” and who will be “out.” 

Jesus has asked the assembled apostles about who people are saying he is.  After reviewing the survey of possibilities Peter makes his and their profession that he is the Christ, the son of the living God.  They all have had opportunities to see him in action, but also enough times to wonder if he is the One.  If they are making acts of faith, then they are not sure; they do not know for certain.  Their faith is not rewarded exactly, but in a sense, burdened.  They will be called to live with these implications. They will lead with tender and compassionate wisdom.  They will model hope in the midst of their crosses. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit they are charged with the remembering and guarding all they have heard and seen Jesus say and do.

I do not believe that Jesus had images or even concepts of popes and bishops in mind.  Jesus was growing more aware that his preaching the truth of the love and forgiveness of God was placing him in conflict with the religious authorities of his times.  We will hear that more clearly in next Sunday's Gospel.  He is setting up a "something," a strategy, a structure, an insurance policy so that not only his death, but his entire life will be for the salvation of the world. 

Jesus is not giving absolute discrimination and power of selectivity to one person only.  He is not entrusting the commission of forgiving to a structure alone.  The ekklesia or "gathered" are charged to live all that those keys were to his mission.  Human history and human beings created the structure we call the "church." The Holy Spirit blesses that human need for management, order and visibility.  You and I are charged not to loosen or bind, but to live this life in such ways that his invitations are still extended to this world.  Jesus never excluded!  There were those who chose to exclude themselves from responding and following him. 

Our Church's history has had many embarrassing, disgraceful and sinful events in which there was much separating and defining who was and who was not, saved, or included, blessed or condemned.  We live from our collective pasts and are always in recovery of our true name, "called and gathered together."  It was, and is, his mission through us that we all may be one.

What is "bound" on earth?  We are bound by our relationship with Jesus to unbind, forgive and live with the hope of the early apostles.  What is to be "loosened"?  The Church is not to loosen its grip on Jesus' teaching and mission, but we are challenged to loosen our grip on our needs for certainty, judgementalism and self-righteousness.  Who do we say the Christ is?  We say that he was what we are, the Body by which salvation continues to come to this world.

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