Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, 27th August 2017

Keys of the Kingdom

When we hear of keys, we immediately think of locking and unlocking. The Bible uses Keys figuratively, in a sense of authority or power, as well as literally. It is called in Hebrew maphteah , i.e., the opener as used in Judges 3:25 “And they waited till they were utterly at a loss; but when he still did not open the doors of the roof chamber, they took the key and opened them; and there lay their lord dead on the floor”. It is in the Greek New Testament as kleis used to denote shutting as used in Matthew 16:19 ; Luke 11:52 ; Revelation 1:18 , etc.

Out first reading of today uses it as the symbol of Power. The Lord dismissed Shebna, the master of the palace from his office and put Eliakim son of Hilkiah, giving him all the power and authority as symbolized in the key: “I place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; should he open, no one shall close, should he close, no one shall open”. Isaiah 22:22.

In effect, in the Old Testament Davidic empire, the king appointed a cabinet of ministers for specific tasks in the kingdom (1 Kings 4:1-16; 2 Kings 18:37). Of these a prime minister was elevated to unique status of authority, ranking second only to the king. This is what is given to Eliakim in Isaiah 22:22. It is this same authority given by Jesus to Peter.

In effect Jesus had performed many miracles to the popular acclamation of the people. In effect, he was so popular in town. The whole populace must have been singing the praises of this new “Man of God” who was performing miracles like Elijah or one of the prophets. At this point, Jesus asks the Apostles: “Who do the crowds say I am?” After all the above mentioned miraculous prowess of Jesus, the reply is obvious: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” What of those so closed to him? What of those living with him in the same house and sharing in his meal? What of his disciples? The crowds can be influenced by the miracles and the feeding.

Jesus becomes very direct to his disciples: “But you? Who do you say I am?” Peter bursts out with “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” This divine revelation makes Peter the Rock on which the Church of God is to be built. There is then a movement from the rock-foundation to the keys of the kingdom.

It is disputed whether the image of the keys and that of binding and loosing are different metaphors meaning the same thing. In any case, the promise of the keys is given to Peter alone. Peter receives the Master key because he recognized Jesus as the Christ. This position is designed to him and his successors in the office. Let us pray today for the Pope who is the successor of Saint Peter so that he may continue to govern the Church in unity and in total submission to the will of God.

Fr. Jude Thaddeus Langeh, cmf
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