Who do you say that I am? One Apostle replied, the one who spoke out and answered for all. His words were words of faith, words of belief in Christ, the Son of the living God. This faith was praised by Jesus and in fact he made it the foundation, the rock on which the faith and church have been built. To Peter and to the Apostles came the charge to be the Rabbis of Christ’s church, to watch over and mediate and bind and loose disputes in the name of Christ and his church. We can see Christ’s intent in how the early church and the apostles went about spreading and expanding the church. When major decisions were made, we see the apostles and their successors come together to collaborate and decide what was the way to go in Christ’s name. As time passed and the church grew, the structure changed and seemingly the way things were decided also changed, but still the coming together of the bishops(the successors of the apostles) still remains a key in the foundational faith of the church and the power of dispensing God’s love and mercy to the faithful. Certainly, in an institution made up of men, Christ ‘s admonition of binding and loosing comes through the many councils of the church with the inspiration of the Spirit over the ages. Christianity has failed in some respects as divisions and disagreements over the centuries has led to numerous divisions. Yet, Christ remains before the world and his word is present to that world in many ways. While as Christians we would like to see unity, recognition of Jesus as Lord and following him has always got to be paramount as we move forward to a union in a life ahead. Peter and the Apostles answered that call today, and so are we called to answer, to embrace the Son of the Living God and live out his message.
21st Sunday ordinary time 8-27-17 Isaiah 22:19-23; Ps: 138:1-3, 6, 8; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20
So, here’s the key!! (Displays large old key) Well, not the actual key, but we do know that the Key to King David’s house was a big one. After all, it was the key to a King’s palace.
So, really, what was it that was so special about King David? He was the youngest son and just a lowly shepherd. But God said, “I have found David to be a man after my own heart who will fulfill my every wish” (1Sam 13:14). In Acts 13:22 St. Paul preaches about this: that above all, our heart must have no desire, no purpose, no agenda, but live to do God’s bidding- we are to be people after God’s heart, like David. This is what made King David special.
Traditionally we credit King David with Ps 27, “One thing I ask of the Lord: this I seek: to dwell in the House of the Lord, all the days of my life, that I may behold the beauty of the Lord and seek his face.” At Mass, the Priest recites David’s great confession from Ps 51, “Wash me from my iniquity; cleanse me from my sin.” His Psalms say a lot about where his heart was.
Our first reading from Isaiah tells about Shebna getting fired from his job at the palace. He apparently was more concerned with his own power and prestige, and not so much with the King’s needs or the people of the kingdom. Eliakim replaced Shebna, and was advised to be “a father to the people”. Fathers are supposed to look out for the best interests of the family; the King needed someone who cared about the kingdom.
But notice that the key of the House of David is so large and heavy that Eliakim will carry it on his shoulder. This image tells us that he had great authority in the government. He determined who could see the King. His authority came directly from the King. His position was one of far-reaching responsibility; he literally carried a heavy load. If he shut the door, you had no recourse. If he opened the door, you had access to the greatest power in the kingdom. If he said “no”, that was it. If he said, “yes”, you were in luck.
If you remember, Isaiah also wrote about someone else who had the weight of government upon his shoulder – “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace.” (Isa 9:6)
This same key shows up again, not only in our Gospel, but in the book of Revelation (3:7), where it says, “The Holy One…holds the key of David…” Jesus now holds the Key of David. It shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to David, and the Lord of the Kingdom of heaven.
The angel Gabriel tied it all together when he told Mary at the annunciation, “(The child) will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of His father David. (Luke 1:32)”
In Matthew and Revelation, “the key” is no longer to an earthly palace, but to “the Kingdom of heaven”. The pattern is that ideas and images are foreshadowed in the OT, then realized and completed in the NT. Jesus tells us that God had revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Christ and the Son of God, the Holy Spirit had enabled him to proclaim it, AND Peter believed. Divine power and a heart for God made Peter the leader and gave him authority.
But something else always shows up when the Key of David is mentioned in the Bible, Old or New Testament. And that something else is this: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This was an expression used in the teachings of the Rabbis of Jesus’ day. It can also be translated as open/shut or free/ imprison. But in all situations, it meant to forbid or permit with indisputable authority.
Later, in Matthew (23:13), Jesus chastised the scribes and Pharisees, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow those trying to enter.”
Since we pray every Sunday for the coming of the Kingdom, as Jesus taught us, I suggest that we take a lesson from the scribes and Pharisees, and make sure we never act in a way which would shut the kingdom of heaven to anyone. No closing, just opening. The keys and the authority are available to all of us, not just one individual or institution.
Here’s the point: let us do everything we are capable of to loose, open, free, and say yes to opening the Kingdom of God to all; because I believe we all can carry the Key, as we have already been given the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control of the Holy Spirit. What is required is to believe in Christ Jesus, Son of God, and act with the power of the Holy Spirit to make the Good News known, using words if necessary.
Today’s gospel is kind of remarkable in that it gives us a look at something that has plagued humanity for a long time. The Mediterranean world was a tribal world and in many ways closed itself off from outsiders. As a result, in this passage, we see Jesus reacts to the woman, an outsider, in an almost harsh way. He says his mission is to Israelites and basically calls her a dog. Yet ultimately, Jesus sees and understands that the woman’s faith and perseverance makes her a follower and he grants her request. This Gospel I think has a lesson for our present time. For the past couple centuries, our nation has been a place of settlement and refuge for people from different parts of the world. Whether voluntarily or involuntarily our population has grown and people have been able to live in relative peace. Science has made popular the tracing of ancestry through a person’s DNA. In my own case, I was surprised to find that I was 2-3% Asian. My point is that the human race is really one and that no matter where our ancestors started out, here we are.
Christ came and as God created the whole world and all and everything in it, so Christ was born and lived and died and rose for every human ever created. His love has and does embrace everyone. Through the centuries, both before Christ’s time and after it there has been evil and bad things present in the world. The freedom which was imparted into humanity to make their own choices, has at many times been a trial and tribulation for humanity. Choosing not to love as God has ask is to deny him and be in sin. Even then, through the graces of Christ, his love shows mercy and forgiveness when sought out. Never has Christ’s love and message needed more to be preached and shown to the world than when humanity’s choices seem unfortunate and wrong. Christ’s love is with us still and always, we must be strong and show and share that same love.
19th Sunday Ordinary time, 8-13-17; 1 Kings 19:9a-13a; Ps 85; Rom 9:1-5; Matt 14:22-33.
As I read these scriptures this week, a single word stood out: “Anguish.” This week is a counterpoint to last week’s glorious Transfiguration. Paul uses the word “Anguish” in our reading from his Letter to the Romans. As you probably know, Paul was a Jewish Pharisee before he converted to “The Way” of Jesus and became an evangelist of the Good News. Paul is thinking about “the great sorrow and constant anguish” in his heart for the Jews, his people. Their rejection of Jesus as Messiah and Savior was tragic. It was the Jews who had watchfully awaited the Messiah, who had passed the expectation from generation to generation. It was the Jews who had been given the law and commandments; the Jews who had made the covenant with God, and it was from the line of David that Jesus was born. While Paul offers praise to God for this marvelous gift of the Messiah, he does it with a heavy heart.
Elijah’s heart was more anguished than Paul’s. Elijah had the kind of stress that can kill people. When Ahab had become King of Israel, “he did more to anger God than any of the other kings of Israel before him” (1Kings 16:33). He worshiped idols and he built altars to them. His wife, Jezebel, focused killing all the prophets of God, particularly Elijah. Finally, Elijah went to King Ahab and demanded a showdown. It was Elijah for God vs. 450 prophets for the idols. Each side built an altar and called for fire to come down and consume a sacrifice. The prophets of the idols called out, danced, and cut themselves with knifes for hours to no effect. Elijah flooded his altar with water, said a short prayer, and fire came down and consumed the sacrifice, the water, the wood, even the stones. Then he ran.
For a full day, Elijah fled from Jezebel’s wrath, until he collapsed in fear, exhaustion, and anguish over the entire situation. He prayed for death to take him. Instead, an angel provided food for him until he was able to continue to the mountains. God asked him why he was in hiding. Elijah responded, “I have given everything I had, and more, for you, God. But the people have turned away from you, your places of worship have been destroyed, and all your prophets are dead. I am alone and there is nothing else I can do.” That is the voice of anguish. God arrives with a “tiny whispering sound”, the gentleness we need when we are in such emotional pain. God protects Elijah, has him anoint a new king and a new prophet, and then brings Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind on a flaming chariot.
Even our Psalm today is a lament. The people are in anguish, feeling abandoned by God and afraid God will be angry with them forever. They want God’s love and glory to return. They imagine kindness and truth meeting. When someone asks if their new clothes make them look fat, we find that kindness and truth do not always meet. Truth does not always spring from us on earth, and we would often prefer mercy rather than justice from heaven. Being holy people is difficult.
So, we move to the Gospel, and things aren’t going very well there, either. Jesus has just heard the news that his dear cousin John the Baptist has been beheaded by Herod as part of an obscene power-play at an outlandish party! It was just too revolting and horrendous, and Jesus withdrew to a quiet place by himself in grief. But people continued to seek him out, and a crowd of some 5,000 people gathered, begging for healing and needing food. Setting aside his own anguish over John, he attended to their needs. Afterward, still needing time to himself, he sends the disciples ahead in the boat, and Jesus goes up the mountain to pray.
Jesus walking on water is one of the beloved stories of the faith, and I’m sure you know it. A heavy storm broke over the lake. Jesus, knowing, that the disciples’ faith was still as little as a new-born baby, goes to them. They are so panicked, so anguished, that they react even to Jesus with fear and doubt. There it is again, “Do not be afraid.” If I ever get a tattoo, that’s what it should be. As Jesus calmed the storm and got into the boat, the disciples worship him as The Divine One he is.
What did we learn?
1. We all have to rely on God, especially when it seems that evil or tragedy has the upper hand. Elijah shows us that trust is not just a sheer act of the will, not simply a blind decision, but a quiet emergence of God’s faithful love. Faith works best when we don’t confuse it with our own powers or efforts.
2. Like Paul, every Christian experiences anguish because our failures and our experiences can seem so hard to reconcile with the promises of God. Yet those promises are eternal. Our faith has its ups and downs and it is often very difficult to see our life in the big picture.
3. “Lord, let us see your kindness”, our Psalmist said. Let us see God’s kindness in all the people who follow God, carrying their crosses of daily sacrifice and suffering.
4. Knowing that Jesus experienced loss and grief, we know he will not abandon us. We too can be healed by time spent with God in prayer and meditation. After getting back into the boat, Peter would have told us that sometimes Jesus will calm the storm, and sometimes Jesus will calm you in the storm. But we are never beyond God’s reach and never have too little faith to call out to him, for God is with us.