First Reading Commentary
This Reading prefigures this weekend’s Gospel and the authority from on High that is given to the Chief Shepherd of the Church, the pope. The key is the symbol of the office. The peg is most likely in a literal sense the peg of a tent. The peg keeps the tent in place and thus symbolizes the stability of the office. To make a long story short, Shebna connived his way into some high office in the palace and made decisions that benefited him.
In the early stages of the Benedict XVI papacy, the new household term which he had spoken out against was “moral relativism”. In a nutshell, moral relativism means that each person is his own god or his own pope. In other words, moral principles have no objective standards. While most would verbally reject moral relativism, the influences of our culture have caused many to fall into it. Like Shebna, relativism focuses far too much on the trinity of me, myself and I. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has defined it as a major evil facing the Church.
Second Reading Commentary
The opening verse is a reassurance that God has everything under control no matter how often one may ask, “Why would God allow this to happen?” Well, we don’t know why but Saint Paul tells us to stop trying to figure it out because our Lord’s ways are unsearchable. All that is known about God is only that which He has chosen to reveal. One would have to think, though, that we’ve barely scratched the surface.
Many of the evils of this world are the result of humanity’s free will and surely at times that is coupled with the influence of the tempter. But what we know about God is that He is Love and Infinitely Good. Therefore, being perpetually awestruck is the result of a strong faith present in a child of God because all the evil that is understood and not understood by us will eventually have the ultimate confrontation with Him Who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good. And guess Who wins?
“The region of Caesarea Philippi” is named such because it was built by Philip the tetrarch in honor of Caesar Augustus.
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” In the court of Herod in Galilee there were floating around superstitious rumors that John the Baptist had been resurrected from the dead which prompts the first answer to our Lord’s question.
Because of Christ’s Ministry the territory had a Messianic atmosphere which led many to believe that Jesus was Elijah who was prophesied to be the precursor: “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5).
Jeremiah’s name comes up because of a vision found in the Second Book of Maccabees (cf. 15:13-16). Other prophets are also associated with Messianic prophecy. But next follows a very direct question from Jesus: “But who do you say that I am?” It is Simon Peter who reveals the Divinity of Jesus Christ.
“Simon, son of Jonah,” as it reads in our liturgical text, is a translation of the Greek text which in this case does not abandon the spoken languages of Jesus and Peter: “Simon Bar Jona,” – “Bar” is the Aramaic word for “Son” and “Jona” is a Hebrew word meaning “Dove”. Jesus informs Peter that His heavenly Father revealed this to him. From this it can be said that it was God the Father Who chose Peter to be the Chief Shepherd of the Church of God the Son. Jesus says that not flesh and blood, meaning not any prophecy that Peter may be aware of, nor any miracle witnessed through the Hands of Christ by Peter is the reason for his proclamation. It was the Father alone Who revealed this to Simon Peter. This proclamation speaks to all of us and says that faith in the Divinity of Jesus Christ is a prerequisite for the family of the Son of Man.
“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church.” In Saint John’s Gospel Jesus identifies Simon as Peter: “You shall be called Cephas, which is interpreted, Peter” (John 1:42). The name in Aramaic is “Kepha” which means “Rock” or “Stone”. In Christ’s native language there is no distinction of grammatical gender unlike Latin. In the Aramaic it is, “You are Kepha and on this kepha I will build My Church.” In Latin there is “Petrus” (Peter) and “petra” (rock). The Greek is “Petros” (Peter) and “petra” (rock). No doubt Christ Himself is the Chief Stone as Saint Paul has pointed out (cf. Ephesians 2:20). But equally true, the apostles are also foundation stones as told in the Book of Revelation (cf. 21:14). Therefore we have to conclude that Peter is the first and chief foundation stone among the apostles. And on Peter, the rock, Christ promised to build His Church. And by building His Church upon rock like the wise builder (cf. Matthew 7:24-25), Jesus has secured His Church from the onslaught of storms that will surely come. And we all know they have come! Jesus promised that the netherworld, or as the Latin translates, the gates of hell, shall not prevail against the Church. The Greek text translates the “gates of hell” as the “gates of the unseen”. Jesus never promised, however, that the gates of hell would not come knocking at the door.
The keys, as in the First Reading, are a symbol of the office.
“Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” These words are not an invitation for Peter to indulge himself, but instead a promise that the office will be guided by the Holy Spirit.