This Sunday is the 21st Sunday in ordinary time. We might call this Sunday “Power Sunday” because the main theme of all three readings is that God is the Source of all authority. God shares His authority with His people, and with elected officials to serve His people, God’s holy people. The Holy Father describes himself as the “servant of the servants” which means he, as the head of the Church, has the role of guiding and governing God’s people like the Lord Himself Who came to serve, not to be served. In this sense, our leaders are entrusted with responsibilities for the material and spiritual welfare of His children.
The first reading, taken from Isaiah, tells us how God hates unfaithful and selfish officials by describing how He removed the proud “master of the royal palace,” Shebna, from his office and promoted the humble and faithful Eliakim. The reading mentions certain symbols such as the robe, the sash, and the keys; these are the signs of this office. This indicates that Eliakim has been invested with authority. This passage also prepares us for today’s Gospel, in which Jesus grants Peter “the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.” The purpose of authority in the Church, of authority at any level, is not to control or rule over people, but rather to help them seek the values that will bring them lasting joy, and to understand the goodness of God.
In the second reading, Paul praises the wisdom of God and His mysterious ways of bringing salvation to all people. Paul marvels at the Divine goodness, wisdom and knowledge. He emphasizes the wisdom of God, which allowed the Jews to reject Jesus and called a few Jewish believers, like Himself, empowering them to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. When the Jews saw the faith of the Gentiles, some of them were influenced and accepted Christ. These Jews would attain salvation through the example provided by the Gentiles. The result would be the salvation of the whole world and the ancient promise of God to Abraham would be fulfilled.
Today’s Gospel passage demonstrates how Peter confesses Jesus as his Lord and Savior and how Jesus, in turn, approves his words and gives the teaching and ruling authority in his Church to Peter. Thus, Jesus established a “Magisterium” in His Church to serve the spiritual and physical needs of His people. By Jesus’ statement, “I will give you the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven,” he gives Peter and his successors the power to bind and to loose—make laws; exercise authority—in the Church, with the assurance that their decisions will be ratified in Heaven.
Through baptism we accepted Jesus, but the readings remind us to have a personal experience of Jesus as our Lord and Savior. How do we do it? It is not enough to know Jesus, but Jesus should become a living experience for us–-as our God protecting us and providing for us in our life’s journey, loving us, forgiving us, helping us, transforming our lives and outlook and walking with us. This is made possible by our listening to Jesus through the daily, meditative reading of the Bible, by talking to Jesus through daily, personal and communal prayers, by offering our lives on the altar with Jesus whenever we participate in the Holy Mass and by leading exemplary lives with Jesus’ grace. Our personal experience of Jesus will also lead us to praise and thank God in all the events of our lives, both good and bad, realizing that God’s loving hands are behind every event of our lives.
We need to surrender our lives to Jesus, our Lord and Savior. That surrender requires that we freely give all areas of our lives to Jesus, and radiate to all around us Jesus’ sacrificial agápe love, unconditional forgiveness, overflowing mercy and committed service. The joy, the love and the peace that we find in Jesus needs to be reflected in the way we live our lives and treat others. At some level we all exercise authority. The readings remind us that we must use this God-given authority to guide others to the right path and to help others to grow and encounter God so they too may have an experience like Peter and proclaim Jesus as their Lord and Savior.