Isaiah 22:19-23; Psalm 138; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20
We have three sets of homily notes to choose from. Please scroll down the page.
Fr. Thomas Oyode: The Keys of the Kingdom
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai: The Identity of Christ and The Authority of His Church Fr. Paul Oredipe: Who is Jesus in your life
Fr. Thomas Oyode
“The Keys of the Kingdom”
Today’s gospel is very fundamental not only in terms of its place in the gospel itself but also in terms of its relevance to Christian theology, Catholic theology particularly. Jesus is said to be in Caesarea Philippi (this is also a gentile region), near Mt. Hermon more than twenty miles away from the Sea of Galilee. It is a region known for the worship of Baal and replete with many temples built and dedicated to different gods. Of important mention is one dedicated to Caesar. The region is also famous for its stones and rocks, probably remains from the construction work carried out by Tetrarch Philip, son of Herod the Great who actually reconstructed the town and gave it the name Caesarea Philippi. Jesus has been going about with his disciples to different regions, teaching and healing, why did he choose to raise a question about his identity before his disciples in a pagan territory of all places? Perhaps, Jesus had asked his disciples the question of his identity precisely here in Caesarea Philippi because he intended to elicit a profession of faith that would displace the paganism of the region. Jesus’ question was probably necessary so that he could draw greater attention to the universality of this professed faith: that there is only one, true, living God, whose love and power is greater than every other gods and that this God loves everyone and desires to save even those who are considered to be gentiles.
In other words, Jesus was giving relevance to the fact that Christian faith must encounter the culture and beliefs of the people through a discerning dialogue that seeks not to destroy culture but to enrich it. Faith enriches culture by shining brighter with a pressing conviction that arises from a personal experience of the power and goodness of God. As it were, this is the basis for the existence of Christianity. This is precisely what is referred to as evangelisation which is “the church’s deepest identity” (Evangelium Nuntiandi, 14). If the disciples were going to teach all nations (Matt. 28:19-20), they must, thus, profess the faith from the conviction of their experience before taking it out to the gentiles (unbelievers). Precisely, for this reason, Jesus already initiates the beginning of the Church and does it in a pagan territory, so he says: you are Peter, and upon this rock (petros, petra in Greek) I will build my Church. Thus, the Church is not built on mere stones and walls made from human engineering. It is built on the faith of the people., without the faith of the people there is no Church. Jesus wanted this difference to be very clear between the Christian faith and the practice of gentile religion., the Christian faith is a living, dynamic organism because it has it’s source in God himself who is Spirit and not in flesh and blood.
As a matter of fact, the Greek word used by Jesus is eccklesia which means called out from. It can also mean an assembly, a gathering. The Church is a gathering together of people called by God to a life of total submission to his will. Now some Fathers of the Church like Pope Leo comment that Jesus rewards Peter for his faith by promising to build the Church, this gathering of a new people on Peter (petros, petra in Greek mean rock). As a sign of this promise, he hands him “the keys to the kingdom of heaven”. The key is a symbol of authority. It is a symbol of stewardship and watchmanship. This point comes out clearly in the first reading where God gives authority to Eliakim, his faithful servant and places the key of the House of David on his shoulders. Here, the imagery of the House of David already evokes an image of Israel of the Old Covenant. Jesus, however, constitutes a New People and entrusts authority to Peter as its Head.
Peter exercised this authority in many ways as spokesperson for the Apostles (Acts 2:14., 10:34) and also initiated the opening of the door of faith to the gentiles (Acts 10:34-11:18). Peter exercised his authority in communion with the other Apostles and this has been transmitted over time, through apostolic succession, to the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him. The Pope then becomes everything that Peter was. He is the rock of support for the faith of all believers. He preserves the “unity of faith and communion” not as a political monarch but precisely as Pope (papa). That is as Father who guides the people as a shepherd guides the flock. He does this not merely as a function of office coordination and management of human affairs but as one who listens to the Word of God, who submits himself to the faith of the Church and who protects it from every arbitrariness. As Vicar of Christ, the Pope has the power of the keys to authoritatively teach matters of faith and religion, to make doctrinal pronouncements and judgements, to absolve sins and to discipline (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 553). This power is full, supreme and universal.
We are invited as Christian believers to listen to the teaching of faith proposed by the Church through the Pope and the bishops in communion with him, and assent to it with a submission of faith. The leaders of the Church are never perfect, Peter himself was not perfect, but he was the first to receive the divine revelation about Jesus’ identity. St. Paul asks us in the second reading, who knows the mind of the Lord? Let us, above all, be ready to profess and express this faith in the daily encounter with the peoples and cultures of our time. So that the Christian culture of life, respect for human dignity, justice and truth may resound so strongly as to drown the voice of the pagan culture of abortion, contraception, drug trafficking, human trafficking, social injustice, poverty and institutional corruption in every age and time.
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
THE IDENTITY OF CHRIST AND THE AUTHORITY OF HIS CHURCH
The identity of Christ and the authority of his Church is the central theme in our readings of today. The Gospel (Matt.16:13-20) is the first place where the word ‘church’ is used in the four gospels. The second place is (Matt 18:15-17). Both places leave us with so many lessons about the Church. Again, the first reading of today speaks about the replacement of Shebna as master of the royal palace by a new official, Eliakim which prefigures the appointment of Peter in the Gospel. The hand-over of keys in both readings clearly defines the authority and function of the Church. In the gospel, the authority is given solely to Peter but, at a later time, elements of it will be extended to the other disciples and to their successors to keep the Church alive even after Christ’s physical departure.
The word “church” is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia, which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.” Church does not refer to a building but to a body of believers. That is why Paul could say in Rom. 16:5 “greet the Church that is in their house”. Paul was not talking about a building but a body of believers. Even though Christ says upon this rock I will build my Church, he was not referring to blocks and cements, but referring to the body of believers that will be under his authority. Therefore, the beauty of a church does not lie on the magnificent building but on the spiritual growth of souls.
Today’s readings further explain the Authority of the Church. Christ is the Spiritual head of Church while the visible head of the Church is the Pope the successor of St. Peter to whom was given the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus, the Pope commands and expresses one and the same power as Peter. The gift of keys alongside the power to bind and loose goes beyond making Peter a gatekeeper in heaven; determining who enters and who does not. It is rather concerned with the authority to teach, the power to discern and decree God’s will in particular circumstances or changing circumstances. Thus, whenever the Pope gives an instruction or issue a decree on issues of faith and morals we strongly believe that he is not wrong. For example, the Pope is not wrong when he says that because of COVID 19 we should receive communion on our palms. Anyone who then refuses to comply is guilty of disobedience, alters his communion with the Church and it is ratified in heaven (Matt.16:19 … what you prohibit […]). No doubt some people don’t comply because of the abuses therein, rather than not complying why not guide against abuses by ensuring that there are no sacred particles left on your palm after the reception of Holy Communion.
Additionally, today’s reading draws our attention to Christ’s identity. Jesus Christ feels the need to clarify who he is. His identity has so much to say about his mission and so he asked his disciples; “who do people say I am?” People easily have their opinions about public figures; positive or negative. In the case of Jesus his disciples told him only the positive things: Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist or one of the prophets. Whereas the negative opinions about him were that he was a drunkard, a glutton, a friend of sinners, Beelzebul and the likes. People will always have negative impression about you; even though you are an angel. Well, such is life! Therefore, it was given to Peter by God that Jesus is the Son of the living God. This implies that what people say about you is not as important as what God says about you. More so, it reveals the true identity of Christ as the promised Messiah.
Therefore, to discover Christ is not a function of flesh and blood or library materials or what people say but a function of Divine illumination. Similarly, your true identity is not a function of what people are saying about you but a function of what Christ says about you. Seek God sincerely; read the bible and do his will and you shall be illuminated. Many people today are going through life, unsure of Christ’s identity and even their own identity. They have identity crisis, they don’t even know who they worship neither do they know themselves. Many are either carried away by the lures of riches and fame or by a Cross-less Christ. They are not themselves, they desire to be like others and so they engaged in all sorts of artificiality and fake life. Beloved in Christ, discover God and realize your identity and you will know your mission in life. One identity that God has given to us is that we are his children (John1:12) and that we are no longer slaves but friends (John 15:15). As his children and friends let us behave accordingly and we enter into life eternal. God bless you.
Fr. Paul Oredipe
WHO IS JESUS IN YOUR LIFE
Brothers and sisters, the great inevitable question in our lives as Christians is the same question Jesus asked in the gospel of today: “Who do men say that the Son of Man is?” “But who do you say that I am?”
The fact that it is a compulsory question for us all means that we are expected to know Him. Of course as our Catechism teaches us, we, as human beings, are made to know, love and serve God. That is the primary reason for our existence. To fail to know God is to fail to realize the essential purpose of life here on earth. It is essential and not optional. Our life here on earth and our eternal destiny depends on that.
However, the kind of knowledge we are talking about is not knowledge of the head (as in the case of notional, conceptual, intellectual knowledge) but knowledge of the heart. It is not the knowledge of a thing, a place, event or circumstances. This knowledge that is required of all of us as Christians is more than intellectual assent or consent. It includes confidence, trust, love and intimacy. It is the knowledge of a person.
We are meant to accept Christ not as something abstract, or as anyone, or even as mere someone, but Christ meant for us to accept Him as a PERSON. You cannot love an abstract idea or a picture. It can be lost in memory. You can only love a PERSON. You cannot have confidence and trust in an abstract idea. It may fade you. It is only in a person that we can have confidence or trust.
We are talking about personal knowledge; knowledge of familiarity, of intimacy, of involvement, of encounter, knowledge of communion. There is no amount of studies, talks or lectures which will give us this kind of knowledge. It comes about only through a relationship, a relationship of person to person, deep personal relationship, direct encounter and close experience.
And when it comes to God, that kind of knowledge is a gift of His Self-disclosure, a result of His free and full revelation of Himself in Christ. Humanity of itself alone cannot know God without the self-revelation of God in His creation which includes the human person. God is only known when He lets Himself be known. And so Peter’s recognition of Jesus as ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matt. 16:16) can be made only through God’s revelation of Himself.
Jesus recognizes that Peter’s confession is a moment of genuine revelation, a revelation that could have come only from God Himself. As the second reading of today exclaims: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen”
Unless God gives it Himself, no man can know Him. Jesus Himself confirmed this: “It was not flesh and blood which revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven”. It is only through God’s gracious revelation of Himself to us that we can truly know Him. It is a gift, a free gift, a generous grace of God.
“Who do you say that I am?” This question remains current today. One might even say that this question becomes ever more current. At a time when the desire for knowledge of all kinds manifests itself in the proliferation of communications media and of education, we may ask ourselves if all of these people who are knowledgeable in so many diverse subjects are also as knowledgeable in the religious domain. You who know so many things, what do you know about Jesus Christ?
The question of ‘who do you say that I am?’ has to be answered by each one of us, looking into our heart, our lives and describing how we experience Jesus in our personal life. And, of course, that experience is different for each of us. Just like in the case of the disciples in the gospel of today, it is not sufficient to speak about Jesus by repeating what others have said or written, no matter how beautiful this may be. You must say what you think, and not just quote an opinion; not even what the greatest of the saints have said. You must bear witness, feel committed by the witness you have borne and carry this commitment to its extreme consequences.
Jesus is asking us; who do you say that I am? – not general opinion – not what other people say about Him. We have to answer it ourselves, take a stand for ourselves and not on behalf of any other person. And your answer comes from your real life story, your daily experiences, not from the sky. And also the answer you give determines your life, your whole future.
To each of us, Jesus the Christ leans over and whispers, “But you … who do you say I am?” Now it is our turn. Christianity does not merely mean memorizing the creed. Rather, it does mean knowing a Saviour and having a real relationship with Him.
The question of Jesus: ‘who do you say I am?’ has a second part. If the first half asks the question: ‘How do we experience Jesus?’ the second half asks the question: “How does Jesus experience us?’ Who does Jesus say we are to him? Jesus himself told Peter who Peter is for Himself.
To help us preserve our faith in Him and for us to persevere to the very end in our relationship with Him, Jesus established an authority in the Church. As human beings, we cannot live alone, in splendid isolation with other people. We need one another’s inspiration and encouragement. In accord with the will of our Lord Himself and the oldest traditions, authority (one form of government or another) is a necessity.
“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. (Matt. 16:18) That was the gift of authority promised to Peter after his confession. This promise was later fulfilled after the Resurrection: feed my sheep, tender my lamp, look after my sheep.
In the Old Testament, the symbol of the Rock applies to Yahweh, “He only is my rock” (Pss. 62:2). In the New Testament, Paul attributes this symbol to Christ: “For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11).
According to our gospel of today (Matthew), Jesus (the Son of the living God) attributes that symbol to Peter. There is no contradiction in this plurality of symbols. God is the only solid foundation of our security and faith. To reveal Himself to us as such, He established the Church, whose invisible foundation is Jesus Christ. Peter, by the mysterious will of Christ, is the visible foundation upon which the building of the Church is erected. As Peter is only the representative of a divine foundation, we can understand the Lord’s promise therefore in the Gospel of today: “And the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:19)
No power, however obscure and dark it may be, can ever destroy God, and therefore the Church, of which God is the foundation, will always remain secure. “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.” (Matt. 16:19) Peter receives from Christ the power and authority over the Church, as Eliakim received the keys of David’s palace in our first reading today.
Surely the Lord could have found many different ways of establishing His Church. He could have entrusted it to the angels. He could have worked out a Church of some sort of direct inspiration where every move on earth was exactly dictated from heaven.
Instead the Lord put the Church in the hands of people of faith, people who profess Him even though they have the limitations of being human. Nevertheless, He still calls and commissions them to reflect His glory to the world. He gave authority to His apostles and their successors who are people with their own unique human weakness. And He promised them that nothing will prevail against his Church.
You and I are members of that body of Christ. We can ask ourselves: how do we reflect his glory to the world? How do we show Him to others so that they too can come to know, love and serve Him? How often do we allow our sinfulness and weakness to get in the way of His divine mission? In spite of our human failings, the Holy Spirit is active within us if only we listen and obey His gentle voice. Who do we say Jesus is? As individual and as a community of faith? Who does He call us today – his friends or foes?
The answer depends on what kind of relationship we have with Him and how we manifest Him in our thoughts, words and actions. We need to be so firm in our faith, that even if we experience betrayals, scandals and any sort of poor example of living the faith, we still maintain our Christianity. The Church still flourishes because the Church is far more than individuals, it is the Body of Christ.
As our response to the Psalm today says: “O Lord, your merciful love is eternal; discard not the work of your hands.” We are the work of His hand and He cannot forsake us. But we need to open our hearts and lives for His amazing grace.
May we not, like the experience of Shebna in the first reading of today, miss the opportunity of the privileges and responsibilities which the Lord has given to us. That is why we must continually pray, as in our response to the Psalm of today: “O Lord, your merciful love is eternal; discard not the work of your hands.”
The Lord calls us to know, love and serve Him.
Today, He asks each one of us: who do you say I am? He awaits your response and mine to that great and unavoidable question of our life and faith.
May the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the everlasting love of God the Father, and the sweet fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.