21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. Bible Study Isaiah 22:19-23, Psalm 138, Romans 11:33-36 & Matthew 16:13-20
“You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
Last Sunday, God speaking through the Prophet Isaiah described His house (the Church) as a House of Prayer for all nations. The miraculous healing of the daughter of the Canaanite woman who persisted in appealing to Jesus concretely expresses the all-inclusiveness of this special house of prayer where God continues to intervene in the affairs of mankind today.
A house (or any gathering) without a leader or someone to exercise authority is just a recipe for chaos and disaster. That the House of God on earth may stand, Jesus knew it was necessary to select a leader. Today’s lessons are drawn from the manner Jesus went about selecting this leader.
1. Leadership Requires a Sixth Sense.
The most difficult job on earth is that of controlling a fellow human being. Some time ago, someone shared a picture on social media. On one side were animals moving; they all seemed to be on a straight file; each animal waiting for the other, none was in a hurry to get there before another. On the other side of the picture was a typical traffic gridlock – cars in a zigzag fashion having blocked themselves as none was willing to wait for another and the drivers shouting at the top of their voice at themselves.
Every now and then, you tune into your radio and you hear people criticising (and even insulting) people in government for not doing this or that. Some of those who criticise the most get into power only to become woeful failures. Leading humans requires special abilities which include the ability to hear directly from God. By asking the disciples a question of his identity, Jesus was actually putting them to the test and when Peter answered correctly, Jesus clapped for him saying: “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17)
Are you a leader in any capacity? Are you a man or woman of God? Do you head a family, a church or a company? Know that your success highly depends on your closeness to God; your active prayer life and your willingness to listen to God’s voice on a daily basis. Left to your own power and intelligence, you can do nothing. As Jesus would say: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) In other words, all power and authority come from God who alone controls the entire universe. This brings us to our next lesson today.
2. All Power and Authority Comes From God.
According to St. Paul, “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1) That is to say, whatever power anyone exercises is just a tiny share of the ultimate power of God who has what it takes to remove such power from that person or put it in the hands of another. This is exactly what the first reading today teaches us.
No human being can boast when it comes to grabbing, retaining and exercising power. Simply put, no one can rise to power or stay in power without God’s divine approval. Truly, as St. Paul says in our second reading today: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)
3. Jesus Christ Founded and Builds the Church.
Over time, I have noticed that when our separated brethren attack the church for its doctrines or practices (especially those not explicitly stated in the Bible), they tend to use the phrase “Roman Catholic Church” giving the impression that the Romans founded the church or that its practices merely reflect Roman culture and traditions. As we see in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus said: “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
Note that Jesus did not say to Peter, “You are Peter and I give you power to build a church for me….” No, instead Jesus said: “Upon this Rock, I (Jesus himself) will build my church…” Jesus Christ is the Founder of the Church and any attempt to hide or dismiss this fact is playing the devil who is a liar from the beginning. (Cf. John 8:44) Some persons moved by hatred go as far as saying that Jesus did not found any church but I wonder if this verse is contained in their Bible.
Secondly, when Jesus founded the church, He did not give it a name. The name “Catholic” and its later modified version “Roman Catholic” were given to it in the attempt to distinguish it from other churches founded by individuals who felt they could no longer be under the authority of Peter. From the time of the Reformation to date, Christianity has seen the birth of almost a million new denominations most of which are entirely committed to attacking and condemning the Catholic Church – playing the devil while pretending to be from God.
4. Jesus Placed Authority on Peter; not on the Bible.
At the basis of virtually all the attacks against the Church is the popular question: “Is it in the Bible?”* As much as the Bible is unarguably the word of God, let us not forget that Jesus Christ founded the Church not on the authority of the Bible but on the authority of Peter. Even the Bible testifies to this fact when Jesus said to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19).
Jesus never said: “Upon this Bible I build my church, whatever is contained in the Bible is approved and whatever is not contained in the Bible is from the devil.” The Bible as we have it today did not even exist when Jesus said these words. Before its compilation, there was the Magisterium, i.e. the teaching authority (Cf. Matthew 23:2-3) and the Sacred Tradition.
The Bible is just one of the three legs upon which our Faith as Christians is built and even its interpretation and understanding depends on the other two. To treat the Bible as the ultimate authority is to undermine the authority of Peter and by so doing contradict what the Bible itself says.
Conclusion: The Powers of Death Can Never Prevail Against the Church.
The fact that the Church continues to exist despite its long history of internal and external attacks is nothing short of a living miracle. It is a testimony that we humans are not really in charge; that God is the one governing the Church. Over the years, many have sought to destroy the church and many continue launching spurious attacks with hearts filled with hatred. We only respond as much as we can, defending the truth with our words and good deeds. In the end, just as Jesus said: “the powers of death can never prevail against the church.”
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, we know that all power comes from you, bless our leaders both spiritual and temporal, work in them and through them for our good. Amen.
Happy Sunday. Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you.