Gospel – Matthew 16:13-20

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
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.”
Then he strictly ordered his disciples
to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Reflection on the Gospel

Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God

We are in the middle of summer, trapped in our homes in fear of a viral enemy we cannot even see. In such a situation, what do the Sunday the readings place before us for our reflection? The theme of leadership! Hardly a comforting idea. Under the circumstances, this is actually an
explosive theme. Everywhere you turn there are discussions or arguments about leadership, whether mayoral, gubernatorial, or national. Everyone has something to say about the effectiveness of our leaders or their abysmal performances in the face of multiple crises. We
might feel that there is nothing we can do about it, and we are fed up thinking about it. But then, what are we to do with the readings.

Both the first reading and the gospel passage speak about leadership. However, the leadership of which they speak is not the result of an election; it is not the prize of victory over others. In both readings, leadership stems from having been chosen by God and the authority such leadership
exercises is characterized in the passage from Isaiah by three rather interesting metaphors: father, key, and tent peg.

Probably the most prominent and best-known metaphor in these passages is ‘key.’ Who has not heard of the keys of the kingdom? However, contrary to common understanding, in neither passage does this metaphor suggest that some people are warmly admitted to the kingdom while
others are locked out. Rather, both passages indicate that the key symbolizes authority in governance. The kind of leadership sketched in the first reading is enhanced by the metaphor ‘father. ’The father was the head of the ancient household. Such a household consisted of several
generations of blood kin as well as household servants and slaves who were probably the spoils of war. The last metaphor is ‘peg.’ Just as a tent peg holds the tent in place, so the good leader – the father – guarantees the stability of the household. These metaphors tell us that the leadership
sketched in these readings is certainly structural yet familial in nature and characterized as governance over diverse people of various ethnic backgrounds, social standings, and often religious beliefs.

The gospel is clearly speaking about the reign of God, not some political drama like the one that unfolds before us on the evening news. It is a way of living that is more like a household than it is a structure of government. One of the most fundamental yet striking characteristics of this
household is its inclusivity which is captured in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female.” In other words, while there surely are such distinctions, they do not mark ethnic, social, or gender privilege.

If this respect for genuine diversity is a characteristic of the household of God, then it is clear that the head of the household, the one who stands in the place of the father, is responsible for ensuring respect for such diversity. Furthermore, the leader’s governance consists in working
toward the common good. The key that was bestowed on the chosen leader acts as a reminder that the decisions made must provide opportunities for all members to enjoy and to benefit from that common good.

Dianne Bergant, CSA, is the Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Old Testament
Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois.

Saint John Baptist de La Salle – Pray for us.
Live, Jesus, in our hearts – Forever.