Granted Authority to Bear Witness
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (27/08/2023)
(Isaiah 22:19-23; Psalm 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20)
Fr. Samuel Odeh
“Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
We are often thankful for appointments and promotions. This is because we believe all uplifting and placements in positions of authority belong to God and comes to us from him. In today’s first reading from Isaiah, God directs the prophet to announce to Shebna, the steward in charge of the king’s household, his decision to throw him out of office and to bring him down from his position. In his place, God appoints Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah and a servant of God, to whom God commits authority for the care of his people and the keys to the house of David or access to the royal house. God removed Shebna from his station and replaced him with Eliakim, granting him authority and honor.
We are also baffled sometimes and occasionally ask questions about God’s choice of persons and personalities to fill a role or a position or an office. To such objections the words of our second reading from Romans throw some light: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33). God knows best why he chooses whoever pleases him as suitable for service in his house, for bearing him witness in their own unique way.
In the reading from the Gospel according to Matthew, Peter is qualified for a “special authority” thanks to a revelation from the heavenly Father (Matthew 16:17), which leads Peter to bear witness to Jesus by declaring him to be the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). Coming to know and believe in Jesus Christ is a blessing from God; faith in Christ is a gift from God. However, this coming to the knowledge of Jesus Christ is a blessing that brings with it the responsibility of bearing witness to Christ. Peter declares Jesus as Messiah, as Savior, as the Christ, as God’s anointed and chosen one. Jesus in turn calls Peter the “rock” on which he will build his Church. Peter’s name is derived from the Greek word for rock, petros. Another way of saying this is that Peter had a rock-like faith which came from an intense and deep love of Jesus. We also can share in Peter’s faith and love by spending time with Jesus in prayer. Although Peter’s authority is cast as the power to bind and loose in heaven and on earth and victory over the forces of the underworld, we see in the verses that follow that Peter’s faith is severely tested by the prospects of a suffering and crucified Messiah.
How may a Christian respond appropriately to the demand placed on them by their calling to serve their brothers and sisters and to govern them in sincerity and faithfulness? Do we acknowledge the truth about God’s right to promote one and to demote another? Do we sometimes judge ourselves, against God’s better judgement, as inadequate to accept positions of authority or are we overly self confident, not needing assistance? Do we invest our time, our energies and our resources for the common good of the Church when we ourselves are in positions of authority or when we are under the authority of another? Do we bear grudges against persons in authority? Do we resent them? Are we envious of them? None of the disciples could have understood Jesus’ command not to disclose his identity as the Christ until after the resurrection. We who live now in the post-resurrection must bring the person of Jesus and his loving mercy, as well as his victory over the forces of evil to other people. Let us declare, once and for all: Jesus is the Christ.
“..that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11).