August 22, 2008

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 with its first reading.

In this reading, God speaks through Isaiah. With God’s authority, a new master of the court is to be named. The master functioned as the king’s chief representative and exercised the authority of the crown. The symbol of office was the key.

Naming the master of the palace, along with subordinate figures, were processes to enable the king to reign more effectively.

In the mind of Isaiah, and of all the prophets while the monarchy existed, the absolute duty of the king was to draw the people to God. The nation’s faithfulness to God was its first priority, hence the king’s duty.

As part of the apparatus of government, the master shared in this duty. The royal duty was a most solemn obligation. The appointment of the master was a very serious step. The authority of the master had to be acknowledged and his directions must be followed.

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 to lovingly supply our needs.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans provides the Church’s second reading.

The Christian Romans lived in what then was the imposing city on Earth, or the Earth as it was known. 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 that is remarkably intact after so many centuries.

Paul constantly had to draw Christians away from the lure of the gaudy Roman culture and to the God of Jesus. Here, the Apostle extols the majesty of his God.

In addition, Paul calls God the “counselor” of the faithful. It implies that God communicates with people, that people communicate with God, and that in the process God guides them through life.

For its third reading this weekend, the Church offers 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, this place 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 Peter, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Jesus identifies with the “Son of Man” of the Old Testament, who was God’s special agent and unfailingly true to God.)

Peter replies that the people are confused. Some see Jesus as a prophet, as John the Baptist or as Elijah. But, for himself, Peter declares that Jesus is the “Son of the living God.”


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.

But it is important to hear God in this process, not simply to hear an echo of our own instincts, wishes, fears and misconceptions.

So, throughout many years, God has spoken through representatives, such as Isaiah or Paul.

For the Church, the greatest representative was Peter, the bearer of the keys. 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 continued through the Christian era in the role of Peter’s successors, the bishops of Rome. Such continuance itself is a sign of God’s love. He hardly would have provided for those in Peter’s generation then denied this care to their descendants, such as ourselves. †

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