SUNDAY BIBLE CHALLENGE – QUESTIONS & ANSWERS: 21ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A

GOD THE SOURCE OF ALL AUTHORITY, BEQUEATHING THE POWER UPON THE CHURCH

I welcome you to our Sunday Bible challenge which is usually an offshoot of the Saturday of the Word of God in Our Catholic Community Forum (on WhatsApp). This is aimed at helping the Laity transcend the literal and simple biblical understanding to having a better and contextual knowledge of the Word of God proclaimed every Sunday… This is not a competition but aimed for those who want to have better biblical knowledge. Kindly see the questions below and their corresponding answers:

1. What part of Isaiah was the first reading taken from, and why was Shebna dismissed from Office?
2. Eliakim was said to be invested with a robe and girded with a sash, and then placed with the key of the house of David. What do these signify?
3. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” Paul exclaims in today’s Epistle. What motivated this statement?
4. The incident of Peter’s profession of faith took place at Caesarea Philippi. What does this reflect?
5. What is the significance of referring to Peter as a rock upon which His Church is built?
6. On Jesus’ identity from the perception of the Jews, His disciples said: “Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Why did the Jews think of Jesus this way?
7. Jesus’ promise to Peter is the Catholic basis for the position of the Pope and of the Church. How can we explain this, together with the keys of Heaven and the binding power in relation to the key given to Eliakim in the first reading?

 

REFERENCE TEXTS:
First Reading: Isaiah 22:19-23
Responsorial Psalm: Ps.  137(138):1-3,6,8
Second Reading: Romans 11:33-36
Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20

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ANSWERS

1. What part of Isaiah was the first reading taken from, and why was Shebna dismissed from Office?

Isaiah chapters 1-39 is known as “Proto-Isaiah” (first Isaiah). However, chapters 13 through 23 is said to record oracles (prophecies) in which the prophet pronounces God’s judgment against various nations. In chapter twenty-two (this Sunday’s first reading), Shebna, the proud, unfaithful royal official, is severely criticized and told by the Lord God, through Isaiah, that he will have to yield to a replacement named Eliakim: “I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station.” The reason for the degradation and sack of Shebna, the “master of the royal palace,” (the most powerful person next to the King), was that he had tried to immortalize himself by beginning to construct his own tomb in a lofty place on the mountain. Aside from that, he deceived the King to form an alliance with Egypt (foreign nations) against the Assyrians, without recourse and trust in the Lord, and this yielded disaster for the nation. The Lord demands faithfulness to His way and His word. Hence, Shebna was removed from his position of controlling access both to the city and to the king.

2. Eliakim was said to be invested with a robe and girded with a sash, and then placed with the key of the house of David. What do these signify?

The robe, the sash, and the keys are the distinguishing mark of rank, office; an official emblem of this office. Returning to the text: “I will place on Eliakim’s shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.” Eliakim thus became the steward of the house, responsible for opening the house in the morning, closing it at night, and controlling access to the royal presence. This was a sign of huge responsibility/rank as one next to the king.

3. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” Paul exclaims in today’s Epistle. What motivated this statement?

This Pauline statement evokes joy. Here, “Paul praises the wisdom of God and His inscrutable ways of bringing salvation to all people. Paul marvels at the Divine Goodness, Wisdom and Knowledge. He emphasizes the wisdom of God (described in chapters 9-11), which allowed the Jews to reject Jesus and called a few Jewish believers, like Paul, empowering them to evangelize the Gentiles. When the Gentiles had been converted, some of the Jews might be impressed and accept Christ themselves. These Jews would attain salvation through the example provided by the Gentiles. The result would be the salvation of the whole world – a good greater than the election of Israel. Thus, the ancient promise of God to Abraham would be fulfilled.” (~Fr. Tony K.)

4. The incident of Peter’s profession of faith took place at Caesarea Philippi. What does this reflect?

Biblical studies reveal that Caesarea Philippi was mentioned only twice in the Bible, both referring to the same event where Jesus chose to reveal to His disciples that He was the Messiah. It was an ancient Roman city located at the southwestern base of Mount Hermon, adjacent to a spring, grotto, and related shrines dedicated to the Greek god Pan. Put differently, Caesarea Philippi was the location of the Cave of Pan. It was in this area that King Jeroboam of Israel led the northern kingdom of Israel into idolatry. This was also the same place where the Greeks and Romans received revelations from the god Pan who was mentioned in classical writings as a “seer” or fortune teller and a giver of revelations. It is also the place of the pagan GATE OF HADES (HELL). In the Hellenistic era, the city experienced moments of prestige. Here Herod built a temple in honour of Emperor Caesar Augustus and before dying, he divided his kingdom among his three sons.

In this very city (Caesarea Philippi) as stated in this Sunday’s gospel, an important fact occurred for Christianity. Jesus passed through here and asked the disciples how he was perceived by the people, then he proceeded to ask the same thing directly to them: “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Needless to say, it was as if Jesus was telling his disciples: “In the midst of this evil and perverse city dedicated to paganism and the gate of hell, do you recognize me as the MESSIAH? Peter’s beautiful response in recognition of Jesus as the “Anointed One” (Greek – Christos; Hebrew – Messiah) won him the “Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven,” and the name “Rock” upon which the Church would be built and the gates of hell would never prevail against.

5. What is the significance of referring to Peter as a rock upon which His Church is built?

First of all, the image of the rock is, by its very nature, a timeless and everlasting image. That’s why the image of the rock was chosen. That’s how rocks are. They’re there to stay. For this reason, the Israelites see their Father Abraham as “the rock” from which the children of Israel were hewn (cf. Isaiah 51:1–2). In referring to Simon as a Rock (Peter), Jesus illustrates him as that which God will now raise up for the new children of God. The event of Matthew 3:9 also sheds some light to this. Thus, upon this “Rock” will the Church be built. The word Church means “ekklesia” in Greek, meaning “assembly” of God’s children after the Exodus. See Deuteronomy 18:16; 31:30 for a better understanding.

In making an allusion from the foregoing, we can say that the Church of Christ is the “assembly of the firstborn” (cf. Hebrews 12:23), where the members, like the Israelites, are baptized in water, led by the Rock, and fed with the “heavenly manna” (Eucharistic banquet).

6. On Jesus’ identity from the perception of the Jews, His disciples said: “Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Why did the Jews think of Jesus this way?

The disciples said, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Here, John the Baptist was so great a figure that it might well be that he had come back from the dead. Elijah, the greatest of the prophets was believed to be the forerunner of the Messiah: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes” (Mal 4:5). With regards to Jeremiah, we turn to 2Esdr 2:18: “For thy help, I will send my servants Isaiah and Jeremiah.”  The last phrase “one of the prophets” suggested that Jesus had a ministry like that of the former prophets. When the people identified Jesus with Elijah and with Jeremiah, they were, according to their lights, paying him a great compliment and setting him in a high place, for Jeremiah and Elijah were the expected forerunners of the Anointed One (Messiah) of God. When they (Elijah and Jeremiah) eventually arrive, the Kingdom would be very near indeed.

7. Jesus’ promise to Peter is the Catholic basis for the position of the Pope and of the Church. How can we explain this, together with the keys of Heaven and the binding power in relation to the key given to Eliakim in the first reading?

The Church, from the inspiration of Sacred Scripture, teaches that Peter was given the keys which admit a man to Heaven or exclude him from it, and that to Peter was given the power to absolve or not to absolve a man from his sins. Put differently, Peter received the authority from Christ to determine what courses of action would be permitted or forbidden in the Church, make or decree new laws, etc. Also, the Church teaches that this power to bind and loose and the keys given to Peter has descended to all the Bishops of Rome throughout all ages by Apostolic Succession and that it exists today in the hands of the current Holy Father, Pope Francis, who, as the direct successor of Peter, is the head of the Church and the Bishop of Rome.

In explaining this better, the First Vatican Council defined the doctrine of the primacy of Peter and his successors in these terms: “We teach and declare, therefore, according to the testimony of the Gospel, that the primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church was immediately and directly promised to and conferred upon the blessed Apostle Peter by Christ the Lord. For to Simon, Christ had said, ‘You shall be called Cephas’ (John 1:42). Then, after Simon had acknowledged Christ with the confession, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16), it was to Simon alone that the solemn words were spoken by the Lord: ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this Rock, I will build my Church, and the powers of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven’ (Matthew 16:17-19). Then, after His Resurrection, Jesus conferred upon Simon Peter alone the jurisdiction of supreme shepherd and ruler over His whole fold with the words, ‘Feed my lambs … Feed my sheep’” (John 21:15-17).

In relation to the Keys given to Eliakim (in the first reading): “I will place on Eliakim’s shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.” As Eliakim became the steward of the house, responsible for opening the house in the morning, closing it at night, and controlling access to the royal presence, the Pharisees saw in this a spiritual significance and related it to their own magisterium. In explaining this, the Jewish historian Josephus says, “The power of binding and loosing was always claimed by the Pharisees. Under Queen Alexandra, the Pharisees became the administrators of all so as to be empowered to banish and readmit whom they pleased as well as to loose and bind.” So here, in the New Testament, we see Jesus handing over these “keys” to the Kingdom of Heaven, to one of the apostles, Peter.

Even five years after the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther declared “So we stand here and with open mouth stare heavenward and invent still other keys.  Yet Christ says very clearly in Mt 16:19 that he will give the keys to Peter. He does not say he has two kinds of keys, but He gives to Peter the keys He Himself has and no others. It is as if He were saying: ‘Why are you staring heavenward in search of the keys?  Do you not understand I gave them to Peter? They are indeed the keys of Heaven, but they are not found in Heaven.  I left them on earth. Don’t look for them in Heaven or anywhere else except in Peter’s mouth where I have placed them. Peter’s mouth is my mouth, and his tongue is my key case.  His office is my office, his binding and loosing are My binding and loosing.’” [Martin Luther, “The Keys,” in Conrad Bergendoff, ed., trans. Earl Beyer and Conrad Bergendoff, Luther’s Works, Volume 40, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1958), p 365-366.]

According to father Tony K., “In this role, Peter was the first to preach Christ, and he did so to three thousand people at Pentecost (Acts 2); he became the spokesman to the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). “Bind and loose” also concerns doctrine and ethical conduct, declaring certain actions as either forbidden or permitted. Later Christian tradition extended this principle to include the power to forgive or retain sins (18:18; John 20:23). In Mt 18:18, Jesus extends this authority to the whole group of disciples, saying, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven.’ Catholics believe that Peter’s authority passed from Peter to the Popes who followed him. The Catholic Church teaches that by giving Peter the “keys” along with the promise that all his decisions would be ratified in Heaven, Christ gave Peter the power of freedom from error when he was officially teaching the universal Church. In other words, Peter received primacy in the Church and the gift of infallibility in his official teaching on matters of Faith and morals. The First Vatican Council defined this Dogma, and the Second Vatican Council reconfirmed it. As the Church was to continue long after Peter had died, it was rightly understood from the beginning that those privileges given to him which were necessary for the successful mission of the Church, were given to his lawful successors – the Popes. Above all, this “Petrine Authority” is deeply rooted in service, just as Jesus says to Peter in John 21:15-17, “feed my lambs…feed my sheep.”

Shalom!
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Vila Sabrina, São Paulo, Brazil
nozickcjoe@gmail.com / fadacjay@gmail.com

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Chinaka Justin Mbaeri

A staunch Roman Catholic and an Apologist of the Christian faith.

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Nwanya Precious
Nwanya Precious
29 days ago

Wow, your explanations are always “all encompassing”

Thank you and God bless you Padre

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