A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy



21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – August 21, 2005


“I Will Give You the Keys of the Kingdom …”



Is 22:19-23 // Rom 11:33-36 // Mt 16:13-20





This Sunday’s Gospel reading (Mt 16:13-20) is situated in cosmopolitan Caesarea Philippi, a city built by Philip the Tetrarch in northern Palestine to give homage to Caesar, the Roman emperor. With regards to the locale and the ensuing dialogue between Jesus and his disciples, Harold Buetow comments: “Caesarea Philippi was a place where many religions met. There was, for example, a great temple of white marble built to the godhead of Caesar that reminded you, even from a distance, of the power and splendor of Rome. And in a large cave beneath a great hill a deep lake, allegedly one of the sources of the Jordan River, was said to be the birthplace of Pan, the great Greek god of nature. In fact, the original name of the town was Panias, and even today its name is Bania. There were, besides, no fewer than fourteen temples dedicated to the worship of the ancient Syrian god Baal. It seems that, for whatever it was that he was about to do, Jesus deliberately chose the backdrop of the splendor of the world’s religions of the time and would invite comparisons. Jesus realized that his days were numbered and he wanted to do something to continue his work. He was now some time on the roads of the earth, and there were all kinds of different opinions abut him. He had to know if there was anyone who recognized him for who he was and would be able to carry on after he was gone. He led up to that by first asking what people thought of him. The answers were highly complimentary … Then came the fatal question: But who do you say that I am? (v. 15).”


In that stage of the dialogue, Jesus was not asking for popular speculations, but the disciples’ own assessment. Peter, assuming the role of spokesman for the group, declared: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). The biblical scholar, Daniel Harrington explains: “Peter’s confession as the Messiah reflects the disciples’ hope that Jesus would deliver Israel from its enemies and establish God’s kingdom on earth. Up to v. 16b, the account closely parallels Mk 8:27-29. But to Mark’s narrative, Matthew adds in v. 16b a further specification of Jesus’ identity (the Son of the living God) and Jesus’ promise to Peter in v. 17-19. This addition changes the flow of the story in Peter’s favor. Whereas in Mk 8:27-31 the confession of faith is passed over and gives way to a misunderstanding on Peter’s part, in Matthew the confession brings a solemn blessing on Peter.”


Simon Peter’s confession of faith was remarkable. He declared not only that Jesus is the “Messiah”, that is, the long-awaited son of David who ushers in the reign of God. Above all, he avowed that Jesus is the “Son of the living God”, that is, the unique representative of God to all people, possessing God’s Spirit and enjoying an exclusive union with the Father. In our terms today, Jesus as the “Son of the living God” means that he is divine.


Indeed, Simon Peter’s confession of faith aroused Jesus’ admiration and blessing: “And 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” (Mt 16:17-19). The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4, comment: “Here we have an investiture, a “nomination”; Jesus calls Simon and surnames him Peter. The play on words (Peter = rock) is clear in Aramaic: Simon is designated – instituted – as the rock upon which Jesus builds his Church … The stone is Jesus himself, the sole foundation (I Cor 3:11). No one can replace Christ; he is, he only, the invisible rock on which the Church, as everything else, rests. But Simon is, by the solemn designation of the Lord, the visible rock of the building, the stone solidly set upon the unique foundation, joined to it by the mortar of faith that the Father has given Peter.”


With regards to the promise of special authority given to Peter and his successors in their ministry in the Church, the authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4, explicate: “Peter, himself, and his successors remain men with their limitations and their foibles, in spite of the singular function conferred on them by Christ. If Jesus can and wants to lean on them, it is by reason of the strength that comes from above. On the other hand, the promise made to the church is quite explicit: The gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. Again, it is the person of the Lord that is in the foreground and, here, his paschal victory over death and all the powers of evil. The guarantee of the life of the Church, and not only of its survival, is the risen Christ. In spite of his hesitations and doubts, his slowness to believe, Peter is the steward, the major-domo of this faith in the Son of God forever living.”


Concerning the keys to the kingdom of heaven entrusted to Peter, the authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4, assert: “This power, expressed in a picturesque formula, concerns the function of teaching and governing, of declaring something licit or illicit, of absolving or condemning, given to Peter for the benefit of the community. It goes without saying that we are not speaking here of a discretionary power but of pastoral power. Such power can be that of a trusted steward only if it is exercised according to the example and in the spirit of the Lord … Jesus made of the apostles the nucleus of the universal gathering announced from the beginning of salvation history, the nucleus of a Church whose head he is. And he entrusted Simon Peter with the keys of the kingdom of heaven, which is being built in this intermediary time from Christ’s Pasch to his return. This Church will know crises, persecutions, and storms, but the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it, because its leader is the Risen One, who has definitively conquered sin and death. Peter underwent martyrdom, and the other apostles have disappeared along with the first disciples and the converts of successive generations. But the Church remains, and the keys given to Peter have been transmitted to his successors. Whatever the concrete exercise of the papal ministry, the development brought to it by Christian reflection and practice, the vicissitudes it has known, this ministry draws its legitimacy from the investiture of Peter, on whom Jesus built his Church.”




by Josephine Ledesma


“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is not simply a revelation by the Father, rather a revelation of the Father. The coming of Christ is the most awaited event, if not the summit of all events in the life and story of the people of Israel. He is the one to fulfill all their hopes and expectations for the “consolation of Israel” and the “redemption of Jerusalem” … the one to restore justice and peace for all eternity to the chosen people of God.


The word “Christ” comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew “Messiah”, which means “Anointed” by God’s Spirit. Jesus of Nazareth, whose humanity the Son assumed, was entirely anointed by the Spirit. Of him the prophet Isaiah had prophesied: “In him the Spirit of the Lord shall rest … the one to bring good tidings to the afflicted, bind up the broken hearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, open the prison for those who are bound, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” His works and words manifest him as the “Holy One of God”, the culmination of which is the sacrifice of the cross, signifying that the whole meaning of his kingship is as a Suffering Servant.


Matthew describes in this Gospel passage the relation of the Father to Christ, of Christ to the Church. The Father reveals the Christ, his Son, in the humanity of Jesus. It is a revelation beyond our imagining. Why such a revelation by the Father? The ever faithful, Jesus makes known the Father who reveals him. He is truly the Son of his Father. Though being the one revealed, Jesus conceals himself instead in the shadow of the Father. What bond of love, what character, what likeness … Christ unveils the face of the unseen Father, the face of love in the face of humanity.


Simon transcended his human nature by professing the faith that founded “the Church of Christ” on solid rock, never to be shaken amidst the threats of darkness, deceit and death. One revelation unfolds after another: the Father reveals the whole Truth in the person of Christ, Christ in turn reveals the wholeness of himself in his Body, the Church. Christ and his Church together make the whole Christ (Christus totus). St. Augustine even declares that the members of the Church become not only Christians, but become Christ himself.


The Spirit who anointed the Christ is the one and the same Spirit who anointed the Church. As the Son and the Spirit are in joint mission in the works of the Christ, so are they in the life and teachings of the Church. Hence, Christ and the Church are one in the Spirit, one in the person of the Son, of one being with the Father. This is the economy of the divine revelation. This is the story of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.






A.     What is our response to Jesus’ probing question addressed to us personally in the here and now: “But who do you say that I am” (Mt 16:15)?


B.     How does Peter’s leap of faith inspire us today? What does it mean to make the personal confession of faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16)?


C.     How do the keys of the kingdom of heaven promised to Peter affect the Church’s pastoral ministry in the world today?





(Cf. Commission Fracophone Cistercienne, Tropaires des dimanches, 104 [Fiche de chant W LH 159] // Days of the Lord, vol. 4, p. 169-170)


Leader: Stone chosen to bear the building

where God gathers his children,

Simon, strengthen this Church

upon the rock where you yourself rest!


Assembly: Jesus, Son of the living God,

unique rock that saves us!



Leader: Who is the rock, if not our God?

He is the God who fills me with courage

and shows me a way beyond reproach.


Come near the living stone

rejected by humans

but precious in God’s sight.


You yourselves, living stones,

form a building in the Spirit

to present your sacrifices to God.


Assembly: Jesus, Son of the living God,

unique rock that saves us!





            The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.


            “And 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 of the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 16:18-19)






A.     ACTION PLAN: Pray for the Church that it may be strengthened by the faith reality that the keys given to Peter have been transmitted to his successors. Pray for the Pope and his collaborators that the pastoral power of the keys entrusted to them may be exercised, only and always, according to the example and in the spirit of the Lord Jesus.


B.     ACTION PLAN: That we may understand and appreciate more deeply the pastoral power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven entrusted to Peter and his successors and in view of a more meaningful Year of the Eucharist, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Visit the PDDM WEB site (www.pddm.us) for the EUCHARISTIC ADORATION THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR (# 39): A Weekly Pastoral Tool for the Year of the Eucharist.




Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang  PDDM






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Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323

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