The First Reading and the Gospel for today are fairly similar. Isaiah says what God’s appointed shall shut, no one should open, what he shall open, on one shall shut.
In the Gospel, Matthew says of God’s appointed, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church …. I will give you the keys of the kingdom …. And whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in Heaven.”
And when those of us who hear those words ask, as we certainly do, “Why? Why would the Lord choose to put a simple and imperfect human being in such a position of power and responsibility?” The Second Reading offers a very unsatisfying answer. And that is simply “The Lord has his own ways. He alone can see the final purpose to his unfolding plan.”
The Gospel Reading is one of the passages that is traditionally used to establish and to demonstrate the role of the papacy in the Catholic Church. Peter, in his response to Christ’s questioning, demonstrates the clearest understanding of who Christ is and what he has come to accomplish. And based on this, Christ commissions Peter to fill his role, to be for the people, as much as he could, what Christ had shown himself to be. Peter, like Christ, was to be the centre point of God’s people, to form the people around himself, to give them a cohesiveness, a direction, a real history, much as Moses and Abraham had been called to form the history of the people of Israel around themselves.
And this is what gives a living memory to the word “Sacrament.” The enfleshing of the working of grace in human beings, the things that they use, the things that they do. It is an emphasis that is made itself felt in every aspect of our lives as Catholics, from papal teaching to the role of Bishop, the administration of sacraments, the formation of a Christian atmosphere in the community and in the home, the righting of whatever wrongs there may be in the social order, and so on. The emphasis on the fact that God’s work, if it is to be done, is to be done by human beings.
Why listen when the Pope teaches? Why come together, surround ourselves with other people, as we do this morning to worship in this formal, ritualised way? Why confess to a human being? Why work at building up a sense of moral responsibility in our dealing with other human beings? Why try to save the world, or even make it just a little better? Why not just admit that ultimately those are things that only God can handle? Because that is true. Only God can. And he will. The challenge for us is to grasp how he has chosen to handle them. And the answer is clear. Through human beings. Through us, through our human abilities, human efforts. Christ has said it. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom.”
We should pray for the successors of Peter, that God will guide them: in holiness so they are images of Christ, in wisdom so as to be God’s humble servants, and in truth so as to be conscious of their weaknesses.
Each one of us must make our own personal discovery of Jesus, and each must answer the living question, “Who do you say that I am?”