21 Sunday year A
All authority is a gift from God
1. ✠ A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (16:13-20)
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said, ‘the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’ Then he gave the disciples strict orders not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
2. Today’s readings point to one theme, namely that all authority is a gift from God. He gives it to whomever he pleases. The first reading from the prophecy of Isaiah (22:19-23) buttresses this point through the rejection of Shebna and the appointment of Eliakim.Shebna was was the head of the king’s household. He saw his position as an opportunity for personal aggrandizement. Instead of being caring to the people he enriched himself at their expenses. He felt so secure that he even built a tomb for himself, confident that his future is secure. Simply put, he abused his position of authority. God was annoyed with him and uprooted him. Took the power from him, pushed him into exile and put another person in his place. The new person, Eliakim, will be a father to the people. He will stand firm and live in the fear of God. By this prophecy, the prophet says clearly what God expects from those in authority. They are to open doors for prosperity and goodness and close doors of misery. This is what the key of authority symbolizes.
3. In the gospel, the theme is developed through another episode. Jesus having come close to the end of his mission on earth decided to evaluate his impact by enquiring from his apostles what people were thinking about him. Their response was that most people believed him to be a prophet. Others even believed that he must be one of the ancient prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah etc, who came back from the dead. These answers are good. They show that his image was a good one. But Jesus is not just a prophet. He is more than a prophet and he knows that his apostles should know him better than the masses. Thus he asked them what they themselves thought about him. Peter spoke up and gave the exact identity of Jesus: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Jesus’ reaction to this response was to declare that only God could inspire such a response and for a reason, namely that he wants to entrust authority to Peter. This agrees with our theme that all authority comes from God and he gives it to whomsoever he desires.
4. Following the good response, Jesus declared Peter to be the rock upon which he will set his Church. He entrusted to him the keys of heaven and earth, an authority beyond human understanding. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom.” He promised to abide by the decision of Peter on earthly and heavenly things:”whatever you bind on earth should be considered bound in heaven.” This power, this authority is given not for personal use but for the service of the kingdom. St John-Paul II, as pope was asked how he felt about being a pope. His response was simple and deep:”What I am terrifies me.” To whom much is given much is expected. We all know how Peter used this power. He died crucified with head downwards. He served the kingdom to the point of giving up his life.
5. The second reading (Rom 11:33-36) captures the message of our theme by assuring that God acts with wisdom. Thus those who receive his gift should use it with wisdom and be at the service of the people. This message has some implications for all in authority.
a. Authority is to be used to foster common good:
Shebna used his position to enrich himself and make his future secure till death. He even made his own tomb. He neglected the people to whom he should be like a father. Most leaders today are no better. Nigeria used to be ranked among emerging economies before South Africa and Egypt. Today Nigeria is no where in the list. Just last week the upcoming economies BRICS added six more countries to the group and Nigeria is missing. Why? Those who received the gift of authority from God to govern Nigeria have all become Shebna.
b. Authority should be used to promote good and prevent evil:
The first reading and the gospel spoke of opening and closing of doors. This is the role of those in authority. They should use their position to open new avenues for better life and close the ones that bring misery. Look into Nigeria today and see if the reverse is not the case. Those in authority are opening doors of misery for the masses and closing doors of prosperity. This is a case found not only on top but also on the base. Most people who exercise little authority over others make sure that people suffer more than normal.
c. Those in authority must make sacrifices for those under them:
Peter had to die for the Church. That was the price he paid for being the head. Today many leaders sacrifice their subjects and feed fat on their misery. Leadership without service and sacrifices is not leadership. Unfortunately that is where Nigeria is today in all sectors of its existence.
6. Today’s readings are calling you to examine your manner of leadership wherever you have authority: you school mates, your family, your workplace, your Church etc. Try to be a father or a mother to those entrusted to your authority. Make sacrifices and work more for common good than for selfish gain. Be an Eliakim and not a Shebna.