August 23, 2020 Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

What was it that Jesus was trying to do in his preaching? Almost every parable, every story he tells, his entire message is really about one thing – the kingdom of heaven. Think about it. Each parable begins with the words “The kingdom of heaven is like……” When he teaches us to pray, the first thing he has us ask for is “The kingdom come”. In today’s reading he gives the Apostles the ‘keys to the kingdom’. So today, let’s first review the big picture before we get into the little section of today’s readings.

What is the kingdom of God? Well, obviously if all of Jesus’ teaching was about it, it must not be an easy concept or one which is easy to summarize. Maybe even more confusing is that our American culture really has no idea of kings and kingdoms. But let’s try to look at the big picture of the kingdom of God.

First of all, it is a future event – at least the conclusion of it. But we also know that the kingdom of God is in the present if we allow it to be.

In the mouth of Christ the “kingdom” means a goal to be attained or a place and a way of thinking; it stands for an influence which must permeate our minds if we would be one with God and attain to God’s ideals.

The kingdom of God means, then, the ruling of God in our hearts; it means those principles which separate us from the kingdom of the world and the devil; it means the gentle influence of grace to help us do better and be better persons; it means the Church as that Divine institution whereby we may make sure of attaining the spirit of Christ and so win that ultimate kingdom of God.

So now that we are reminded of Jesus overall message, let’s look at today’s readings in light of it.

Let’s talk about keys first. In the first reading we are shown the importance of keys in the Biblical era. The king’s right hand man has lost his job because of greed, and his position, symbolized by his keys which has been taken away, and given to another. In that period keys were very very large and worn over the shoulder. Common people didn’t have keys and locks, but the king’s palace did, and to only one completely trusted person was the key to the palace given. It was a great honor.

Even today, I think, we look upon getting a key as a trust – parents feel a child is old enough and trustworthy enough to be given a key to the house; we offer dignitaries keys to the city; our employers trust us enough to give us a key to get into the office, and so on. Getting a key, even today, is a sign of honor and responsibility.

In the Gospel today Peter and the apostles are given the trust, the responsibility of the keys to the kingdom – whatever doors they open, remain open, and whatever door they lock, remain shut. It is a huge honor and also a huge responsibility. They are still men – they still make mistakes – but somehow Jesus trusts them. And what is it they have done to inspire such trust, to give them the keys which will allow them to pass on the teachings of Jesus, to forgive sins like Jesus, to be the rock or stone – the trusted representatives of the kingdom of God on earth?

Basically, they answered the question that ultimately each of us has to answer for ourselves: who do you say that I am?

Who would have believed in the days of Jesus that Peter, a simple fisherman, would become the leader of the greatest Church in the world, the Holy Catholic Church? Who would have believed that Jesus would pick Peter, knowing in advance that Peter would deny knowing Him on three different occasions?
In those days, this all seemed very mysterious. But looking back today, we see that God can achieve anything that He wants. We can see how He calls imperfect men as instruments of His Divine work. We can see how He calls the uneducated to display the glorious power of His Spirit. We can see the love and mercy of God at work. Now, we can testify that indeed, the Spirit of God was at work. Why? Because the mysteries have unraveled themselves like a blooming flower.
When Jesus ordered His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah, surely, the disciples must have thought, “That is a strange command.” In their minds, they must have thought, “If Jesus is the Messiah, what does He have to fear?” Little did they perceive at the time the mysterious ways of the Lord.
When Peter was given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, what could possibly have gone through His mind? Did he expect the Kingdom of Heaven to descend on earth as many still do today? Did he see himself as ruling over the coming Kingdom? What about Jesus, where would He be? If Jesus gave the keys to Peter, surely, that must have meant that Jesus would not be around. At the time, the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven must have been intriguing to Peter.
It is only after the death and glorious Resurrection of Jesus that Peter understood his apostolic role in the Holy Catholic Church. After the Resurrection, Peter was able to perceive that he had been called to lead the Body of Christ alongside the other apostles. The keys were his authority as the first of hundreds of Popes who would follow in his apostolic succession.
My brothers and sisters, there is something to learn from today’s message. Sometimes in life, we do not understand why things happen the way they do. But surely, God who is everywhere, knows all, sees all and is in control of all situations. Every event, although mysterious at the time of its occurrence, serves a spiritual purpose for our individual spiritual growth and for the benefit of the Church as a whole.

Today, we may not understand why certain things are happening in our lives. The events may appear mysterious. But if we look 5 or 10 years in our past, we may now perceive what appeared to be a mystery at that time. We may now be able to see how we have spiritually gained from our life experiences. Although the Heavenly Father was mysterious in His ways at the time, His Divine Will is now made known to us.
This week, let us take the time to reflect on our past. Let us take the time to reflect on the mysterious ways of the Lord that have led us to where we are today. Let us take the time to perceive what our Heavenly Father has done for us so we may grow in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. And when our eyes are opened to the mysteries of the Lord, let us take a moment to thank Him for all that He has done for us, glorifying Him in His Most Holy Name.