Sunday Sermon for August 23, 2020, the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

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

In the Gospel reading today our Lord asks what may be the most important question each of us needs to answer in the depth of our own hearts: “Who do you say that I am?”  Over the past two thousand years there have been many ways people have tried to answer the question of who Jesus is.  Unlike the people of our Lord’s time, the answers over the past two millennia are not simply John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the Prophets.

No, many ideas are floating around about Jesus that are neither good nor true.  There are some who, at least, have some reverential ideas, but they may still be false.  We can hear what these people say and discern whether there is anything credible about what they might think.  Ultimately, however, it comes down to the matter of truth.  Most ideas people present about Jesus are aimed at avoiding the truth.  They do not want to accept Jesus as God; they do not want Him to be Lord of their lives.  Therefore, they want to think of Him as only a good man or a wise teacher, or a holy man.

Although there is truth in each of these ideas, none of them contain the fullness of truth.  We must realize that when we make our own definitive statement about who we believe Jesus to be, it will require us to change our lives and live according to what we believe.  We all know the catechism answer to the question and, while it is true, if we are just parroting the answer, we are not making it our own.  So, from your heart, who do you say Jesus is?

If you can say with conviction that Jesus is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and the Son of Mary; that He is true God and true man; that He is the Savior, the Redeemer, the Christ, then you have chosen the truth.  Having made this choice, we next need to recognize that being God, everything Jesus said is the Word of God.  Everything Jesus did was the will of God and therefore perfect.  This includes changing the name of Simon in order to build His Church on the rock, that is, on Peter. 

We all know Peter’s struggles, but we also know his love for the Lord and his fidelity to Jesus.  Of course, before he could practice that fidelity in its fullness, Peter had to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness because he himself had denied the Lord.  This made him not only more compassionate for others in their weakness, but it made him more dependent on Jesus, acknowledging his own weakness and allowing our Lord to be his strength. 

It might seem that our Lord should have founded His Church on someone else.  Peter wasn’t politically astute, there is nowhere that tells us how well he managed his money, his business, or his home.  However, the one Apostle who would seem to have been the best fit from a worldly point of view was the very Apostle who betrayed our Lord.  God’s ways are not our ways.  As the Lord told Samuel, man looks to the appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.  St. Paul states it very eloquently in the second reading: “Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God!  How inscrutable are His judgments and how unsearchable His ways!” 

Peter was given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.  The idea of the keys comes from the passage we hear in the first reading.  In Isaiah 22 God is removing Shebna, the Prime Minister of the kingdom, because of his infidelity.  In his place God is going to appoint Hilkiah as his successor.  Among the various things given to Hilkiah, God says He will place the keys of the House of David on his shoulder.  The keys are the insignia of the Prime Minister.  The king was in charge of the kingdom, but the Prime Minister had the task of running the day-to-day operations of the kingdom.  The keys signify that he can open or lock anything in the kingdom.  In other words, he can make laws, dispense from laws, and make decisions with the authority of the king. 

Jesus is the King; Peter, and his successors, fill the office of the Prime Minister in the Kingdom of God on earth, that is, the Church.  Jesus founded the Church and the Papacy; He gave His authority to the Pope and made promises regarding the Church.  If Jesus is only a holy man, these promises mean little.  If He is God, they are absolute and guaranteed by God Himself.  So, who do you say Jesus is?

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit