Homily for the Twenty-first Sunday, year A.
Whenever we read this passage of the scripture, the passage that talks about Jesus and his apostles in the region of Caesarea Philippi, the first thing that comes to mind is the authority of St. Peter. When Jesus and his apostles came to this region, he put a question to the apostles, Who do people say the Son of Man is? The apostles obviously answered in chorus; some say you are John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others say you are Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Then, Jesus made the question more personal; Who do you say I am?
This second question may have created a little bit of silence among the apostles, there was no more chorus answers. But Peter was bold enough to speak up and say, You are Christ, the Son of the living God. This profession of faith became the foundation of the Church, Jesus built the Church upon this apostolic faith. Jesus said, You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. Jesus promised to give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, he gave him power and authority to lead the Church, he became the first Pope. We are so proud as Catholics to be associated with this apostolicity which has flowed down to our generation through the laying on of hands.
Some people try to question whether Peter was actually a Pope or a leader in the early Church. Those who ask such questions wants to imagine Peter dressed in liturgical vestments and been addressed as Pope Peter I, in the Vatican City, with Cardinals, bishops, priests and every Catholic under him as we have it today. These people look into history with the ‘eyes of today’. But that is wrong, the organization of the Church gradually developed into what we have today. Even none Catholics gradually developed into what they are today, they are not the same as the early protestant movement.
The word “Pope” has Greek/Latin root which is translated to mean “Father”. The Pope therefore is a Father, a leader, a rally point and that was what Peter was. That title, “Pope” was never used for Peter as some think, neither was it used by the early “biblical Christians”. But the reality of the office and Peter’s leadership role over the Church are biblical and historical. Jesus said, I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; authority. Jesus did not promise to build a house on the faith of Peter, but a Church. And the Church is the people of God.
After his resurrection, Jesus ordered Peter to take care of the Church, to feed his Lambs and his Sheep (Jn. 21:15-17). He entrusted the Church to Peter’s care, he became the leader, the Pope. The Pope does not take the place of Jesus Christ in the Church, he is the Vicar of Christ. The bishops are like the apostles that worked closely with Peter while the priests and the religious are collaborators in the same ministry.
It is obvious that the Petrine authority is incontestable, and we are very proud as Catholics with our communion with this office. The Church is strongly against any form of division or anything that threatens the unity of the Church. But let us not be carried away by this issue of authority, let us listen to the voice of God.
Just as Peter was given the authority to head the Church, so also we all as members of the Church have been given authority over Satan through our faith and baptism in Christ Jesus. The devil and his agents are always out to fight this authority we have in Christ, he tried it with Peter. Shortly after Jesus praised Peter for his faith and confirmed the fact that Peter’s answer was from the Father, the devil came and put a thought in Peter, he tried to make Peter think that Jesus will not die. Jesus rebuked that thought immediately, he said, Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me… (Mt. 16:23).
In so many ways the devil tries to fight the authority we have in Christ Jesus, he wants us to miss use and destroy ourselves with the beautiful gifts God has given us. He puts thoughts in us that contradicts the word of God.
Jesus confirmed that Peter’s confession of faith was a thought the Father put in him, and he also confirmed that Peter’s initial rejection of the cross was a thought not of God, therefor, Satan’s. He puts thoughts in us, he tries to confuse and mislead the children of God by all means. That is why he is called the author of lies, and the reason why we must hold onto the word of God.
It is not enough to have the authority, what we do with it matters a lot. The devil can make us drag this authority in the mud if we do not know what we carry in us, if we do not know who we are in Christ Jesus. In our first reading this morning we see one who was dismissed from office; Shebna. He was the master of the palace, he had the authority to command everyone around him, but he miss used it and so, was dismissed from office. That is what the devil wants, for us to be dismissed from the presence of God, but we must not let it happen. As we celebrate today, let us continue to exercise our God given authority over Satan while submitting to the authority of God through his Church.