We Catholics are often so concerned with the
power to bind and loose, which Jesus bestows on Peter in Sunday's
well-known Gospel (Mt 16: 13-20), that we overlook how Matthew constructed
the passage. He revolves his narratives around both Peter and Jesus
recognizing something significant in each other.
Jesus begins the process by asking His
disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
They reply, "Some say John the Baptist,
others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
Since none of these people or images
corresponds to who Jesus actually is, He asks the question again, this time
soliciting the opinion of those who know Him best: "But who do you say
Who Jesus is
Perceiving something in Jesus that other people
don't notice, Simon Peter responds, "You are the Christ, the Son of
the living God." Outsiders hadn't been able to recognize such
dimensions in Jesus' personality.
Because of the way Matthew normally uses Jesus'
disciples - as "straight men" whose questions or statements are
either completely wrong or so far off base that Jesus must correct them -
Jesus quickly states that His heavenly Father has "revealed" this
insight to Peter, otherwise the Gospel's original readers would presume
Peter's evaluation of Jesus is inaccurate.
Immediately after Peter delivers his
assessment, Jesus reciprocates by giving His appraisal of Peter. Playing on
his nickname, "Rock," Jesus responds, "You are Rock and upon
this rock I will build my church."
Just as Peter has faith enough in Jesus to
notice what others overlook, so Jesus points out something that others
overlook in Peter: a rock-solid faith. He has enough faith that Jesus gives
him prerogatives and a position that most people thought a blue-collar
fisherman could never fulfill.
That's why it's important to go to the
first reading (Is 22: 15, 19-23). Although this liturgical passage doesn't
get into the question of why Yahweh is thrusting Shebna from office and
pulling him down from his station, the reason is significant: Shebna doesn't
believe Yahweh alone is powerful enough to help Israel defeat their Assyrian
He wants his country to make a treaty with
Egypt in order to achieve victory and peace. Isaiah, and all prophets,
regard such treaties as nothing but an institutionalized lack of faith in
Yahweh. Because Shebna lacks faith in Yahweh's power to keep His people
free, his power is taken away and given to a person of faith, Eliakim.
Our sacred authors consistently teach that
power, based on faith, only comes to those who recognize that God is
completely beyond our control. Remember how Peter sees that quality in Jesus
in the Gospel?
Paul couldn't express God's otherness
better than in the second reading (Rom 11: 33-36). "Oh, the depth of
the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!" he writes, "How
inscrutable are His judgments and how unsearchable His ways!"
Through the centuries, and especially during
the biblical period, many thought that the purpose of religion was to
provide us with the tools to control God. We're frequently taught to
employ the proper protocol, the correct formulas, the appropriate rituals
- all geared to force God to answer our prayers.
Our sacred writers constantly fight against
such religions, referred to as "fertility cults" in the Hebrew
Scriptures. Those whom we today regard as being divinely inspired give us
glimpses of a God who is always beyond anyone's control or manipulation.
They also tell us that, once we acknowledge
such a God working in our lives, we'll begin to notice dimensions of our
own "otherness" that we hadn't experienced before - a power in
ourselves that can come only from God.