Today, Catholic Christians celebrate the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time.
On this day, we encounter in the Gospel of Matthew, words that are foundational for our Catholic Faith, for it is with these words that Jesus began the Catholic Church’s teaching authority.
In this Gospel passage, Jesus asked his disciples who people were saying he was. The disciples answered that some were claiming that Jesus was actually John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. Simon Peter said, however, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” We then read, “Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’” (Matthew 16: 17-19).
In this passage, we need to know that the name Peter means “rock” in Greek.
Before discussing three important Biblical principles Catholic Christians derive from this passage, let’s take a closer look at the man Jesus chose to be the earthly leader of the Church – Simon Peter.
Nobody knows exactly how old the Twelve Apostles were when Jesus called them, but most Bible scholars believe most of them were teenagers or men in their twenties. Many scholars guess that Peter was perhaps one of the oldest of the men, perhaps in his late 20s or even as old as 30.
Peter’s original name was Simeon – “Simon” in modern English. Later he got the name “Peter.” He had a brother named Andrew.
Peter and Andrew were both fishermen, for we read how Jesus called the two brothers to follow him while they were casting their fishing nets into the sea (Matthew 4: 18-20). We hear how when Jesus called Peter and Andrew to follow him, they did not hesitate.
Peter was also a married man, for we read how Jesus cured Peter’s mother-in-law.
Peter was also known in the Scriptures for doing and saying imprudent things.
In the story of the storm at sea (Matthew 14: 22-33), for example, we read how Peter was in a boat being tossed about by the waves. Suddenly, the disciples saw Jesus walking toward them on the water, and they imagined that maybe it was a ghost. Peter, showing a total lack of sense, said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to walk on the water to you.” And when Jesus commanded him to do so, Peter went out of the boat. But as he was walking on the water in the middle of a storm, he realized what a crazy thing he was doing and began to sink. Jesus had to save him from drowning.
We also saw Peter cut off the ear of a chief priest before Jesus was crucified. This indicates not only a lack of control of his emotions, but it indicates a lack of maturity.
And, we know how Peter swore that he would never reject Jesus. But, as we know, Peter became fearful of the authorities. He was afraid that by being associated with Jesus, something bad might happen to him. Therefore, before the cock crowed twice, as Jesus predicted, Peter denied Jesus three times.
In addition to Peter’s faults, which show him to be a human with human faults, the Scripture also shows him as an intimate companion of Jesus. He was one of the three apostles present at Jesus’ Transfiguration, for example, and he was one of the first to see the empty tomb after Jesus’ resurrection.
Today, though, we see one of the most amazing facts about Peter – Jesus made him the earthly leader of his Church. For Catholic Christians, this passage leads us to believe many things that other Christians do not. Here are just three.
First, Catholic Christianity is the only Biblical Church. By that, I mean Jesus founded the Church after the Old Testament had been written, but before the New Testament had been written. It was the early Catholic writers who wrote the New Testament. All other forms of Christianity – Orthodox Christianity, Protestantism, and Evangelicalism – are all post-Biblical Churches, for they were not founded until after the Old and New Testaments had been written.
Second, Catholic Christianity was flourishing and being organized long before the New Testament was written. The teaching authority of the Church, which we read about today, was operating, and the sacraments were being celebrated. Catholic Christians believe that Jesus made Peter the first earthly leader – “pope” in English.
And third, though God gave authority to Peter and his successors to lead the Church, that does not mean the Catholic Church, as it exists on Earth, is perfect. On the contrary, the Church is composed of humans, and humans can and do make mistakes. The good news, however, is that the Holy Spirit is alive and working in the Church. Therefore, the Church is growing not only in numbers, but also in wisdom of divine teaching. That is why we must continue to create new catechisms, for a catechism is simply a snapshot of current thinking of the Church at any given moment in history.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be good to reflect on our own Catholic Faith. Do thank God for choosing us to be part of his Church? Do we pray for our leaders? Do we pray for non-Catholic Christians to one day be one with us?
And that is the good news I have for you on this 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017.