Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first section of the Book of Isaiah provides this weekend with its first reading.
In this reading, Isaiah speaks for God. With God’s authority Isaiah declared that a new master of the court should be named.
The master functioned as the king’s chief representative and exercised the authority of the crown. The symbol of office was a key.
Having a master of the palace, along with subordinate figures, enabled the king more efficiently to reign. In the mind of Isaiah, and of all the prophets while the monarchy existed, the ultimate purpose of the king’s reign was to draw the people to God. Maintaining the nation’s faithfulness to God was the king’s first duty.
As part of the apparatus of government, the master shared in this duty. The royal duty also bound the master, who would be the king’s delegate. Hence, the appointment of the master was a very serious step.
This reading is hardly the only occasion when God speaks, through human instruments, to people. Such occasions fill the Scriptures. It is a situation reminding us of our own needs, and of God’s willingness lovingly to supply for our needs.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans provides the church’s second reading. The Christian Romans lived in what then was the imposing city on earth, or the earth as it then was known. Much of Rome’s splendor lay in the great temples within the city dedicated to the various gods and goddesses. Even today, tourists marvel at the Pantheon, an ancient temple in Rome remarkably intact after all the years.
Paul constantly had to draw Christians away from the lure of the gaudy, materialistic, libertine Roman culture to the God of Jesus. In this reading, Paul extols the majesty of his God. In addition, Paul calls God the “counselor” of the faithful. It implies that God communicates with people, that people communicate with God, and that in the process God guides them through life.
For its third reading the church offers us a selection from St. Matthew’s Gospel.
The setting is Caesarea Philippi, a place northeast of Capernaum, quite picturesque and pleasant. At the time of Jesus, this place was a resort. The River Jordan forms here from springs and small creeks. Even today, Israelis go there to relax.
Jesus and Peter enter a dramatic exchange. The Lord asks Peter, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Here, Jesus identifies with the “Son of Man” of the Old Testament, who was God’s special agent and who unfailingly was true to God.
Peter replies that the people are confused. Some see Jesus as a prophet, as John the Baptist or as Elijah. But, for himself, Peter declares that Jesus is the “Son of the living God”.
Placing these Scriptures before us, the church makes two points. The first is that, come what may in our lives, we are not alone. God speaks to us. Such is the long history of salvation.
It is important to hear God in this process, which is more easily said than done since we are inclined to listen to own instincts, wishes, fears and misconceptions.
Still, God speaks to us, guides us and warns us. Throughout the years, God has spoken through representatives such as Isaiah or Paul.
The Lord’s greatest representative was Peter, the bearer of the keys. The Lord commissioned him. Peter’s strong faith, spoken at Caesarea Philippi, underscored the choice.
Peter was the “master of the king’s house,” to use Isaiah’s imagery. The role has continued through the ages in the role of Peter’s successors, the bishops of Rome. Such continuance itself is a sign of God’s love. He provided for those in Peter’s generation, and in the church provides for all the generations that have followed.
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