We pray to reverence the authority Jesus gives each of us to use our gifts to continue God’s creation of the Kingdom of gentle mercy. We can pray that we tend to and husband God’s garden of life. We can pray to give “power” a good name, a good image by the way we exercise compassion, patience, and justice.
As often happens when hearing the verses in the First Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we need to read the full chapter from which the verses are taken. This is quite true to catch the full flavor of today’s First Reading. Shebna has had a rather lofty image of himself as well as a lofty place in the palace. He has begun to immortalize himself by beginning to construct his own tomb in a lofty place on the mountain. God has told him that he will be waded up like a ball and thrown out of the country with all his finery and he will die there in disgrace.
In this oracle God not only takes away Shebna’s symbols of domination, but God calls somebody else from a different family to bless God’s people. Eliakim will be a “father” to the people of Jerusalem and all the people will be his family under God. Instead of warring with power and haughty presumption based on family of origin, Eliakim will be steadfast and use his authority for peace.
Jesus travels with His disciples to a city whose name celebrates Roman power and domination of Israel. It is there that Jesus poses the big question for the purpose of eliciting a bigger answer. For the first time in their relationship Peter, speaking for the other disciples, declares publicly the name which is opposed to the power of Roman and all other worldly force. Jesus is the Christ and the son of God.
Peter, who comes from his earthly family, “son of Jonah” is given a new name and as with Eliakim, Simon is given a title and a power. Peter, the name in Greek and in Aramaic means “rock,” is to be the foundation of the group called together, or more commonly known as, the Church. Peter as person, but Peter’s profession of deep belief in Jesus as the Christ, is what is meant by foundational. Next Sunday’s Gospel will show Peter’s faith in Jesus quite tested. For now, we hear Jesus conveying upon this Rock, the “keys” of God’s power. As we all heard in the First Reading for the sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, from the Book of Wisdom, last July 17th, “Your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all. But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency.” The “keys” which Peter receives are the instruments of governing as Jesus received that power from His Father. Those keys in the hands of Jesus opened ears, eyes, and hearts. Those “keys” in the hands of Jesus shut out darkness, evil, and death from dominating God’s creation and God’s family.
Someone once wrote that power does not corrupt, but power in the hands of a fool, corrupts the fool. Keys can be a sign of control- car keys, house keys. I have observed that people who jingle their keys are saying that the power they have comes from outside; from what they possess. They make the noise of power to frighten away anybody who might not listen to the noise and might want to ask if anybody’s home in there. That is the fool who has been corrupted by pretentious power. this fool has been fooled by the Evil One of this world into thinking that things authenticate identity and positions prove authenticity. The Devil offered Jesus power over all things and this power would prove that Jesus was the “Son of God.” Jesus had received His identity and needed no jingling of power-keys to satisfy this world’s demands.
This text is used often to prove papal primacy and the power to admit or exclude. What proves our authenticity is the primacy of our personal including with leniency and clemency. We are the Church, the called together. We have our structures based on tradition and Scripture with our Holy Father as chief key-holder. Each of us has been given the Key of the Eucharist, into our hands and we don’t jingle it around as a false sign of belonging and domination. We are each invited to exercise Christ’s power to open ears, eyes, and hearts and to shut out the noises of false teachings, false posturing, and false temptations to identity.
In the history of the Christian church, power has corrupted and made fools of those who used the power-keys for self-establishing indulgence. As with Shebna, God brought them down to size. Power can be used as a prop, a crutch to assist the insecure of spirit. True power is received, not grabbed and wielded like a club. We receive the Eucharistic keying and the hands stretched out to accept this blessed gift, are the same hands which are rewriting the new and present history of Christ’s church. This power does not corrupt, but in the hands of the faithful, it gives life to the world in His Name.
“Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands.” Ps. 138
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