A reading from the prophecy of Isaiah
This is the sad story of two men who, in turn, held a powerful position in the royal house, being master of the palace. “Thus says the Lord to Shebna, master of the palace: ‘I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station. On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority.”
That seems to be it. God choses a new man who will be faithful and do the right thing. Shebna has been a bad, self-absorbed leader, so God chooses Eliakim who will do better. But that is not the end of the story, because Eliakim turns out no better and abuses his power to enrich his relatives.
This passage prepares us for the gospel reading in today’s Mass in which Jesus promises the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” to Peter, who will faithfully carry out his responsibilities. Does God ask less of us?
(Psalm 138:1-2, 2. 3. 6-8)
“Lord, your love is eternal: do not forsake the work of your hands.” Another verse follows: “When I called, you answered me; you built up strength within me.” This is certainly a time when we need to call out to the Lord. He does not forsake us nor the millions of people who are in far worse condition than most of us and for whom we pray.
A reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans
This is the way Paul ends his Letter to the Romans:
“Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgements and how unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given the Lord anything that may be repaid? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever.”
Paul was always aware that all that we have and all that we are is all gift. We do not have a “deal” with God: “You do this for me God, and I will do this for you.” Our very lives and all that we have are gifts. Let us give thanks today and every day. Even on, no—especially on the days when we do not feel especially gifted.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew
This reading has a question from Jesus, an answer from Peter, and a calling from Jesus to Peter. Here is the question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The disciples tell Jesus what people are saying: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Good guesses, but no. Finally, “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.’”
Then comes Peter’s calling from Jesus: “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 lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Peter is the one chosen by God, but Peter is far from perfect. At a crucial time, he denies Jesus, and after Jesus dies Peter is on the wrong side of one of the first major decisions for the early Church—whether non-Jewish converts must be circumcised. Peter says yes, but Paul says no. Peter eventually agrees. He is not perfect, but he is always faithful.
Painting: Peter the Apostle holding the keys to heaven and the pallium, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1610-1612. Museo del Prado. Public domain.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.