In last Sunday’s selection from his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul marveled at how God has worked even through the barrier of human disobedience to bring mercy to all. Nothing stops the Lord’s mercy! “For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all” (Rm 11:32). Today’s second reading is a continuation of Paul’s thought. He breaks into a beautiful exclamation at the wonder of the mysteries of God: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” God’s wisdom and knowledge far surpass our capacity. His majesty and his mercy leave us awestruck. Yet, though he is far above us, he does not stand aloof or remote from us. He reveals himself to us. He wants his own glory to shine through us.
Today’s Gospel gives us a striking example of God’s desire to make himself known: the Father reveals to Peter the mystery of Jesus’ true identity. This Gospel has three parts. First are the various opinions about who Jesus might be; second is the truth of who Jesus really is, as expressed by Peter; and third is the truth about the new role of Peter, as expressed by Jesus.
In the first part, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” It is a kind of informal opinion poll. He receives a variety of answers. If we took an opinion poll today, we would get an even wider variety of answers. People would say that Jesus was a man ahead of his times, or the first communist, or a courageous religious reformer, or a mystic, or a great moral teacher. However, opinion polls do not necessarily lead us to the truth. In fact, all the answers that were given to Jesus were wrong. So Jesus takes the next step and asks, “But who do you say that I am?” An amazing thing happens, something that makes this one of the key moments in Jesus’ public ministry. Peter bursts out with a clear statement of absolute truth: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” Jesus is indeed the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of the Father. Peter, inspired by the Father, is the first to announce publicly this central truth of our Christian faith.
Now it is Jesus’ turn to make an announcement, which is also a moment of revelation, not about himself but about Peter. He says, “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.” Before this, there is no record of anyone bearing the name “Peter,” which means “Rock.” Jesus chose a new name to reveal that he was establishing something new, “my Church,” on a new foundation. A rock is strong, solid and permanent. It represents the lasting and unchangeable foundation of the Church.
Jesus immediately adds another symbol: “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Keys are a symbol of authority. The one who holds the keys has the power to allow others to enter, and the power to lock them out. This same symbol is used in the first reading to show that God chose a faithful man, Eliakim, to act with authority in the kingdom. “I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open.”
In the Gospel this prophecy is fulfilled when Jesus gives to Peter “the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.” The Lord gives heavenly authority to a mere man, to Peter and to his successors. This is the scriptural basis for our understanding of the authority of the Pope in the Church. When the Pope teaches definitively some truth about the Faith or about moral life, it is not just an opinion. As Catholics we believe that the Pope teaches with the authority of Jesus Christ, who promised that the gates of the netherworld would not prevail against his Church.
We live in an age that is skeptical about man’s ability to know the truth, if there even is such a thing as truth. But we do not have to subject ourselves to the uncertainty of the world. We know the truth because it has been revealed to us. Jesus himself is the truth, “the way, the truth and the life.” Jesus has given the Church the authority to continue his proclamation of the Gospel. If we want to know the truth about matters of faith and morals, if we are troubled by the conflicting popular opinions about important matters such as Heaven and Hell, marriage, the priesthood, contraception, abortion or homosexuality, we can find the truth in the authoritative teachings of the Church under the leadership of the Pope and all the bishops.
This is part of the “riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” which has been entrusted to us. With firm faith we accept this gift and join with the Pope and the whole Church in making known the precious treasure of life in Jesus Christ.
Do I interiorly ponder the depths of the riches of the great mercy of God? Am I grateful for the gift of faith and the Church? Do I seek out the teachings of the Church about faith and morals?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.