Who do you say that I am?”
That question, asked by Jesus to Simon Peter in today’s Gospel, sets the stage for a key foundation of the Catholic Church. Once Simon states that Jesus is the Messiah, then Jesus blesses him, changes his name to Peter (which means rock), and says that he will build his church upon that rock.
This week’s study will draw out two important themes from this passage. First, the symbolism of the rock. Solomon, the great king of Israel, built the Temple on the rock where Abraham offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice. With this background in mind, we will see that Jesus is saying that he is the new Solomon. Like Solomon, Jesus is the builder of the new temple, the Church. And just as Solomon built his temple on the rock of Abraham’s sacrifice, so Jesus will build his—though not on a physical rock, but on Peter, the new rock. This new temple, which Jesus refers to as his kingdom, will be his church—the Catholic Church.
Second, the keys. Jesus, knowing that he will not be physically present much longer, hands over the “keys of the kingdom” to Peter. We will see that in the Bible, the keys are a symbol for the king’s prime minister, the caretaker of the kingdom. By giving Peter the keys of the kingdom, Jesus is appointing Peter as his prime minister in the kingdom he is building. From that moment on, Peter and his successors, the popes, have held a central leadership role for Christ’s Church—one that recalls the prime minister of the Davidic kingdom of old.
Eliakim is destined by God to be a father to those who live in Jerusalem (Isaiah 22:19-23).
This passage, because of the mention of the “key of the House of David,” has always been paired by the Church with the Gospel reading from Matthew 16 that we have today in the Lectionary. Eliakim has been prophesied by Isaiah to be the rightful holder of the important office of steward of King Hezekiah’s house. Hezekiah is the heir of the House of David and has tried to reform the kingdom, but has entered into an alliance with Egypt against his enemies from the north, contrary to God’s will. His current steward, Shebna, has apparently been complicit in the plans to fortify the city of Jerusalem against an attack from the north and to enter into an alliance with the great power to the south.
God reveals to Isaiah that he himself is the only real safeguard against Israel’s enemies and that Hezekiah’s reforms will have to include a steward, or right-hand man, who understands just exactly who God is and what role he is to play in the life of his people. All this is borne out when, finally, the Assyrians do invade from the north, and, just when they are about to strike, the army of Sennacherib is suddenly and mysteriously slain by an angel and the survivors depart! (See 2 Kings 19.) Worldly calculations, political machinations are never a substitute for reliance upon the sovereign power of the Most High. We are to be prudent in how we arrange our affairs, as any good steward of the gifts of God must be, but prudence is not cunning and must be informed by faith.
How deep are the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! (Romans 11:33-36).
This short hymn of praise from St. Paul springs forth in response to his reflection upon the remarkable surprise that God reveals about the place of the Gentiles, or non-Jewish peoples, in God’s plan of salvation. Although they had seemed lost in the morass of pagan culture of the time, God had made clear that they were to be part of God’s covenant plan of love in no less a way than the Jews. As Paul notes, from the Jewish perspective that he had grown up with, this was entirely unexpected—as he says, “inscrutable.”
And yet, Paul also tells us that this “judgment,” though unforeseen, does make sense. In verses 28-32 of this same chapter of Romans, he says that God has done so “that he may have mercy upon all.” Because God is infinite and entirely transcends our experience, the things he ordains are not always immediately clear to us. But, precisely because he is supreme in being, he is also supremely wise. Everything he wills is ordered to bring the maximum good. We are fallen; the world has been wounded by human sin. God permits our trials, many of which are born from either our sin or the sin of others, only because he knows how to make a mercy of even the greatest trials. Often we cannot see what he has planned for us beyond the current circumstance in which we find ourselves, but we can be absolutely certain that God has in store for us a depth of “riches,” even if they be hidden from us now.
Jesus asked the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:13-20).
In this text we see echoes of the first and second readings. The “keys” offered to the steward of the House of David in the first reading are disclosed as a prophecy of the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” given now to Peter. Like Eliakim, who is a steward chosen by God because he knows who God is and how to follow him, Peter, by a special gift of revelation, knows who Jesus is: “the Son of the living God.” Peter, though weak and human, is to be the fixed “peg in a sure spot,” who will guide the kingdom for his King when he ascends to heaven.
That Peter, an unlettered fisherman — not a Levitical priest, not a scholar of the law — should take this important place in the kingdom is “inscrutable.” And that God should use a mere man as his viceroy and that he should found a Church made up of sinful men to do his divine work is “unsearchable.” That he should allow weeds and wheat to grow in the same field is a difficult thing for us to understand, and often still more difficult for us to bear. But once committing himself to come among us as a man, with all that that means, God remains true to the logic of his choice. Men, sometimes sinful, sometimes saints, will be called to hold those keys and to exercise the remarkable role of the steward of the kingdom of God, that office that we refer to as the papacy.
Reflection & Discussion
In this week’s Gospel, Jesus gives Simon a new name, Peter, which means rock. What do you think this new name tells us about Peter?
Let's look at how changing Peter’s name is essential to understanding the foundation of the Catholic Church. Please watch the short Opening the Word video by Dr. Tim Gray on FORMED.org. (Still don't have a FORMED account? Set up yours free here.)
According to Dr. Gray, how does the relationship of Jesus to the Catholic Church resemble the relationship of a king to his kingdom?
Dr. Gray explains that Jesus was a “tekton.” What is a tekton? How does Jesus’ being a tekton relate to his renaming Simon to be Peter, the rock?
DIGGING DEEPER: A Master Builder
The Greek word tekton is used to mean someone who isn’t just a builder of furniture or tools, but an artisan who is skilled in construction and design work and who can build with stone as well as wood. A tekton was a craftsman, not a mere common laborer.