Most of us probably don’t realize this, but every day we carry around a little bundle of power in our pockets, purses, etc. No, in spite of what all of the advertisers are trying to convince you of, it isn’t that latest smartphone with the 80 billion aps on it. It is, in fact, our keys. You see, keys are powerful. Sure, practically speaking they don’t seem to do much: they lock and unlock our doors and start our cars, but when you look at it a little more broadly, you see that they do in fact have a lot of power over how we live our lives. Just think about the last time you lost your keys. How powerless did you feel? Particularly in America, without our keys we are immobilized. We can’t go anywhere because we can’t unlock, let alone start our car, and we wouldn’t want to leave anyway, because we either wouldn’t be able to lock the house or, if we could, we wouldn’t be able to get back in. So, yes, keys are apparently pretty powerful. Well, maybe not exactly. It’s not the keys themselves that have the power, but rather it is those who possess the keys who have it. Parents, of course, know this. How often have you—against your better judgment—handed your car keys over to your teenager with the ominous warning, “I expect you to bring it back in one piece, got it?” You realize that putting keys in their hands is handing power over to them and so you feel it is your duty (and rightfully so) to remind them of the responsibility that comes with it. This, I think, can help us understand our readings today, because in both we see that power being handed over to another by the conferring of keys.
In the first reading, we see that it is God himself who has this power. In the reading we see that God is exercising his power over the keys of the kingdom, taking them from one and giving them to another. Shebna was given power over the kingdom of Judah, yet he was not a good steward of the authority given to him. So the Lord stripped him of the keys and gave them to Eliakim, whom the prophet identifies as the Lord’s servant. Teens, could you imagine losing the keys to the car to your little brother or sister? Multiply that by a couple hundred thousand and that’s what you have going on here. You see, God was looking for a good steward for his kingdom, someone who would serve the needs of his chosen people well. Shebna, apparently, didn’t cut it, so the keys were given to Eliakim.
In the Gospel today, we see a similar scene, though in this instance it is more like a test. As a group, the disciples are able to report all of the facts about what others have been saying about Jesus. Yet when Jesus confronts them and asks them to weed through all of that and tell him who they say that he is, only Simon Peter is recorded as having a response. As a result, Jesus reveals to Simon his plan for him in his Kingdom. Two things, I think, are important to note here. First, Jesus carries the authority to confer the keys of the Kingdom of God. Now, no Jew in their right mind would ever presume to do this, because they all knew that God alone had the authority to do so. Thus, Jesus is either outside of his right mind or he really is God. (fyi, as Christians, we believe the latter.
Of course, as we encounter this reading today, we, too, are confronted with the same questions. “Who do they say that I am?” Well, for us, that’s a relatively easy question to answer. We have nearly 2000 years of history and study behind us to help us. In fact, there’s a whole theological science—called Christology—that’s dedicated to answering just that question. The challenge comes, as it did for the disciples who were with Jesus that day, when Jesus asks that second question, “Who do you say that I am?” No matter how deftly we synthesize 2000 years of Christology to make it sound like our own, if we answer using only the knowledge we’ve gained through study of what others have said, our answer will never be more than just that, what others have said about Jesus. This question cannot be answered by study alone. Rather, it also requires a relationship.
Think about it. If a close friend came up to you and said, “What are other people saying about me?” how would you respond? My guess is that it would be things like, “Oh, they say ‘he’s a nice guy,’ or ‘a good worker,’ or ‘a great soccer player.’” Or perhaps, “‘she’s a good mother,’ ‘an excellent teacher,’ or ‘a nice boss,’” etc. etc. And what if your friend then turned to you and said, “Well, who do you say that I am?” If you don’t have a good relationship with that person, what more can you say except what everyone else has already said? Yet, if you have a relationship with that person, you can look at him or her and say, “You’re Greg, or Susan, or Cindy. You’re Larry, or Samir or Elaina… and you’re my friend and I know that you’re a good person.” Do you see the difference there? Without a relationship we are unable to see that person for who he or she is. My friends, the same applies for our ability to answer these questions from Jesus today. We can’t just listen to what other people have said about him. Rather, we have to spend time with him and get to know him. Then we will be able to respond, “You are Jesus, my friend. And because of this I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.” My friends this is a powerful confession. It is powerful because it unlocks for us the relationship in which God can reveal his plan for us—his plan for our happiness—and so entrust us with the responsibility to help bring about his kingdom here on earth.
Whether or not you are ready to make this confession today, the important thing to remember is that there is always room for each of us to deepen our relationship with God. Each time that we encounter him in both the Word and the Blessed Sacrament—whether here in the liturgy or in private prayer—we should ask him to reveal himself to us more and more. However it is that you decide to do that—whether it is through Bible Studies, time in the adoration chapel, participating in a Christ Renews His Parish weekend or any other of the hundreds of ways we have available to us here in this parish—let God unlock the faith in you that will be your key to unlocking the life that he has planned for you, a life that will lead to your eternal joy in heaven. My brothers and sisters, we can even begin right here. As we each approach to receive Jesus in this Eucharistic meal, let us imagine Jesus asking us that question, “Who do you say that I am?” Then, let’s let our “Amen” echo Peter’s words and thus unlock for us the joys of God’s Kingdom.
~ Given at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Carmel, IN – August 20th & 21st, 2011