August 25, 2017

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe first section of the Book of Isaiah provides this weekend’s liturgy with its first reading.

In this passage, Isaiah speaks for God. With God’s authority, Isaiah declared that a new master of the royal court should be named. The master functioned as the king’s chief representative and exercised the authority of the crown. The symbol of office was a key.

Having a master of the palace, along with subordinate figures, enabled the king to reign more efficiently. In the mind of Isaiah and of all the prophets while the monarchy existed, the ultimate purpose of the king’s reign was to draw the people to God. Maintaining the nation’s faithfulness to God was the king’s first duty.

As part of the apparatus of government, the master shared in this duty. The royal duty also bound the master, who would be the king’s delegate. Hence, the appointment of the master was a serious decision.

This reading is hardly the only occasion when God speaks through human instruments to people. Such occasions fill the Scriptures. It is a situation reminding us of our own needs, and of God’s willingness lovingly to supply for our needs.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans provides the second reading. The Christian Romans lived in what then was the most imposing city in what is now Europe, North Africa and much of the Middle East. Much of Rome’s splendor lay in the great temples within the city dedicated to the various gods and goddesses. Even today, tourists marvel at the Pantheon, an ancient temple in Rome intact after so many centuries largely due to the fact that it was converted to a church in the early Middle Ages.

Paul constantly had to draw Christians away from the lure of the gaudy, materialistic, libertine Roman culture to the God of Jesus. In this reading, Paul extols the glorious majesty of God that ultimately transcends all human understanding.

For its third reading this weekend, the Church offers us a selection from St. Matthew’s Gospel.

The setting is Caesarea Philippi, a place northeast of Capernaum, quite picturesque and pleasant. At the time of Jesus, it was a resort. The River Jordan forms here from springs and small creeks. Even today, Israelis go there to relax.

Jesus and Peter enter a dramatic exchange. The Lord asks his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Mt 16:13) (Jesus identifies with the “Son of Man” of the Old Testament, who was God’s special agent, and who unfailingly was true to God.)

The disciples reply that the people are confused. Some see Jesus as a prophet, as John the Baptist, or as Elijah. Peter then speaks for the disciples, declaring that Jesus is the “Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16)

Jesus blesses God for revealing this profound truth to Peter and vows to build his Church upon him, a Church that will resist all evil.

Reflection

Placing these Scriptures before us, the Church makes two points. The first is that, come what may in our lives, we are not alone. God speaks to us. Such is the long history of salvation.

It is important to hear God in this process, more easily said than done since we are inclined to listen to own instincts, wishes, fears and misconceptions.

Still, God speaks to us, guides us, and warns us. Throughout the years, God has spoken through representatives, such as Isaiah or Paul.

The Lord’s greatest representative was Peter, the bearer of the keys, the rock on whom the Lord built his Church. The Lord commissioned him. Peter’s strong faith, spoken at Caesarea Philippi, underscored the choice.

Peter was the “master of the king’s house,” to use Isaiah’s imagery. The role has continued through the ages in the role of Peter’s successors, the bishops of Rome. Such continuance itself is a sign of God’s love. He provided for those in Peter’s generation and, in the Church, provides for all the generations that have followed. †

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