by Father James Rodriguez
THE MOUNTAIN THEME throughout the Sundays of this month has served us well, reminding us that our altars are the truest places of encounter with the God Who is so far beyond our human understanding. In His goodness and fatherly love, He visits His people, and by the same mystery nourishes us as we wander through life.
Our experience of His presence in the world hinges on a singular question which is posed to the Apostles in today’s Gospel: Who do you say that I am?
In the first reading, from Isaiah’s prophecy, we are given a glimpse of who He is. We hear of the promise of God to replace the mysterious figure Shebna with Eliakim, son of Hilkiah. For a casual listener, these names might seem superfluous, as if the fact that we do not know their context makes it any less important. A brief glance at this context, however, reveals a great deal about the Lord’s message to us today, and reminds us of the beauty and fruitfulness of His Word. We should not wait until Sunday to ponder, and even study the readings, nor should we let them fade away as soon as the homily ends.
The story of Shebna shows us that pride has no place in true leadership, since for this sin he is replaced by Eliakim who is given the key of David, a title given to Jesus and emphasized in late Advent. Just as God promises that Eliakim, wielding this key, opens and shuts definitively, Jesus confirms this authority in His Apostles when He institutes sacramental confession in today’s Gospel: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19).
As pride closed the garden to our first parents, the living key that is the New Adam unlocks forever the gate of God’s friendship.
This truly is good news, and so we sing out with King David in today’s psalm: “Lord, your love is eternal!” This song of thanksgiving to God for His intervening providence serves as a rallying cry for anyone who feels abandoned or afraid. David promises the Lord, who “has heard the words of my mouth, that in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise; I will worship at your holy temple.”
Thanksgiving and Worship
The King establishes here a direct link between thanksgiving and worship, precisely what we do at every Mass. Gathered at the altar, celebrating the eucharistia of Jesus – His thanksgiving – we too give thanks and praise to the God Who has saved us, and we do so in the presence of the angels, for they are before the throne of God, and worship Him day and night within His temple (Revelation 7:15).
We share in that proximity with the Lord that our first parents had forsaken in a moment of pride, and thank God for His saving action and fatherly love.
With St. Paul we are amazed and can exclaim, how inscrutable are His judgments and how unsearchable His ways!
This missionary saint suffered for the Name, but the only words on his lips were words of thanksgiving and praise, because he knew beyond doubt just who the Son of Man is.
St. Paul understood through revelation and instruction that Jesus was the One promised from the moment of Adam and Eve’s expulsion, through Shebna’s demotion, to the present day, when we who gather at His altar see the Son with unveiled faces (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Earlier this year, we, as a diocese, mourned the death of Bishop Thomas V. Daily, who was installed when I was a child and retired when I was a seminarian. When he would visit us at the seminary, he often quoted today’s Gospel: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”
A Successor to the Apostles
This recognition on Bishop Daily’s part was his way of answering the Lord’s question: Who do you say that I am? Despite his human weaknesses, Bishop Daily saw himself as a successor of the Apostles, a man set apart by God to proclaim His Holy Name to anyone who would listen. This divine mandate was frequently on his lips, just as the keys were in his hands as one invested with authority in the Church.
This twin vocation of authority and humility can only be fulfilled by the answer of Peter: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
It is not enough to consider Jesus a good moral teacher. Either He is God or not, and when we proclaim Him to be Who He is, blessed are we, and blessed indeed is every life we touch.
Readings for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 22: 19-23
Psalm 138: 1-2, 2-3, 6, 8
Romans 11: 33-36
Matthew 16: 13-20
Father Rodriguez ministers full-time with Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, and lives in residence at Blessed Sacrament parish in Jackson Heights.