Sunday, 23 August 2020 : Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we are all brought to attention that the Lord has entrusted to His servants in His Church, the authority and power over the faithful, through His establishment of the Church and the authority He granted to His Vicar in this world, St. Peter the Apostle, the leader of all the faithful and the first Supreme Pontiff and Pope. Through his successors, the Popes as the Supreme Pontiff and Bishop of Rome, the Church has remained as the firm anchor of faith and the deposit of faith throughout the past two thousand years of its history.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, the Lord spoke to Isaiah regarding the man named Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, whose background was in fact the financial manager of the kingdom of Judah and also the royal steward of the palace, as recorded in the Book of Kings. Eliakim took over the duties of managing the finances from a man named Shebna, also another servant of the then king of Judah, Hezekiah.

As the royal steward, the manager of the finances of the palace and the kingdom, Eliakim truly held a very powerful position that is comparable in power and responsibility as a modern day Prime Minister or Premier, definitely the second most powerful person in the entire realm after the king himself. From what the Lord spoke of through Isaiah, although details were scarce, we can conclude that Eliakim was a righteous person and was also a dutiful servant.

Eliakim was entrusted with the treasury of the kingdom and the management of the palace, and this is symbolically presented with the entrustment of the keys of the house of David to Eliakim himself, as he was given the authority of the king and to be even like a father to the kingdom of Judah, its people in Jerusalem and the whole realm. This was truly a position of great honour that spoke of the historic events behind the actual appointment of Eliakim, but then at the same time, God was in fact also revealing a prophecy of what would happen in the future.

For this story of Eliakim, the royal steward entrusted with authority and keys of the house of David is a clear parallel of what happened at the time of the New Testament, specifically referring to our Gospel passage today, in which we heard the Lord Jesus, our God and Saviour, entrusting to His chief disciple, St. Peter the Apostle, then known as Simon, son of John or Simon bar Jonah, the keys of the kingdom of Heaven itself, as well as the foundation of His Church on earth, as Peter, the ‘Rock’.

Thus, as we can see the clear parallel between the past occurrence of Eliakim in the kingdom of Judah and the story of Simon Peter, the disciple of the Lord, Eliakim, the royal steward was the precursor and the prefigurement of St. Peter, who was appointed therefore as the even greater ‘Royal Steward of the King of Kings’. Just as Hezekiah was the king of Judah and the lord and master of Eliakim, thus the Lord Jesus, King of Kings and the Son of David, inheritor of David’s Kingdom, is the Lord and Master of St. Peter, the new steward appointed by God to oversee His people, His Church.

This is a very significant event, as to St. Peter had been granted the authority by the entrustment of the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, that whatever he opens shall be opened, and whatever he shuts shall be shut, as the words of the Lord clearly presented it, ‘whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you unbind on earth shall be unbound in heaven.’ This is the royal authority the Lord entrusted to His Church, and invested in St. Peter and his successors, the Bishop of the Papal and Apostolic See of Rome, right from St. Peter himself up to our current Pope, Pope Francis, the 265th successor of St. Peter.

And there are also other significance of the key of the kingdom of Heaven, for the Church of God, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is composed of all the faithful and baptised people of God, all united in the Communion in the Body of Christ, under the leadership of the Pope, successor of St. Peter and Supreme Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ much as Eliakim was the vicar or the most trusted and right hand man of the king of Judah. And the Pope is the chief guardian of the treasure of the faith, the deposit of faith in the Magisterium of the Church and Sacred Tradition.

A key unlocks a door, and without a key, a door cannot be unlocked. Thus, this key is very symbolic of the opening of the doorway to salvation to God, that exists only through God’s Church. And from St. Peter, this authority is passed down to his successors, the Popes, and to the bishops, to the priests, who are the ones who conferred the Sacraments to the faithful, who first received Baptism, and therefore, is welcomed into the Church, in a moment likened to the opening of the gates of the kingdom of Heaven.

And yes, the Church of God itself is the earthly and heavenly manifestation of the kingdom of God, for in the Church, all the faithful are united, both the Church Militant still living on earth, the Church Suffering in purgatory, and the Church Triumphant, our holy predecessors, the saints and blesseds and others now enjoying the glory of heaven. Through Baptism, all of us enter into this great kingdom and receive new life, to which all of us have been called by God.

St. Paul said in his second reading today, in the Epistle to the Church and the faithful in Rome, of the great and immensity of the wisdom and the knowledge of God, which is in fact referring to the fullness of truth and the wisdom of God, that God Himself has revealed to His Church through the Holy Spirit. And the Apostles, having received the Holy Spirit, preserve this wisdom and all the truths, passed on to their successors, the bishops led by the chief of all the bishops, the Pope himself.

From the earliest days of the Church, the Church fathers have spoken on the faith and truth preserved faithfully by the Church, especially by the Apostolic See of Rome, the See of St. Peter, universally viewed as the leader and preserver of the Sacred Tradition of the faith and also the authentic Magisterium and authority on Church matters and all matters of the Christian faith. St. Augustine, one of the most renowned and important Church fathers spoke of ‘among these Apostles, St. Peter alone almost everywhere deserve to represent the whole Church.’

And from the Eastern Church, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, one of the most renowned leaders of the Church in the East spoke of the primacy of St. Peter among the other Apostles and highlighted how he led the other Apostles and disciples during the times of crisis, against the divisions in the Church, against the enemies of the Church and those who opposed them, as he stood by his faith devoutly throughout his ministry.

The Ecumenical Council of Ephesus also formally declared, ‘There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the Apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to today and forever both lives and judges in his successors.’

The declaration of the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, which was also supported by the other Ecumenical Councils before and after showed the nature of the Church and how through Peter, the chief of the Apostles, the Vicar of Christ, the Lord has laid down the framework of His Church, united as one Body, one Church, under the authority and primacy of St. Peter and his successors, the holder of the keys of the kingdom of Heaven.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, as Christians, we are all part of this one Body of Christ, and through baptism, we have been brought into this treasure of faith, preserved by the courageous efforts of the leaders of the Church, the successors of the Apostles, our bishops, and especially the successors of St. Peter, our Popes. But it is sad to see how we often do not appreciate just how fortunate we are to be sharers of the Lord’s truth, His wisdom and His love. And we are often divided in the Church, amongst ourselves as we bicker with one another, frequently due to selfish reasons.

The devil knows well that the Church and indeed, a holy and united Church is the greatest obstacle in his efforts to lead us to destruction through sin. That is why, throughout time, as it is today, the Church and its leaders have always been under attack constantly, by those who seek the ruination of souls, and our priests and bishops have been constantly tempted, attacked and had challenges and obstacles put in their path to make them give up the fight against these wicked forces.

As God’s Church and the members of His Body, all of us must stay united and support one another in the constant struggle against evil. We must not allow ourselves be divided and be set up one against another. And first and foremost, our Pope and our other Church leaders, the bishops and the parish priests, all of them need our prayers and our support. We trust in God that His words are truth, that not even the gates of hell can stand up against the Church, for as long as we remain firm in our faith in the Lord and stay within His Church, then we are safe from any harm.

Now, brothers and sisters, we have received the gift of God’s wisdom and truth through His Church. Let us therefore make good use of these gifts and become faithful and genuine witnesses of our Lord and Saviour in the midst of our community today, by obeying Him and His teachings as faithfully preserved in His Church, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Let us entrust ourselves to the official teachings and the truths of God as held and espoused by the Church, and help one another to remain faithful.

Let us then also be active as good and contributing members of the Church, in our respective calling and vocation in life, be it as those who have been called to the holy orders, to be shepherds of God’s people, or those who have embraced the call of religious and consecrated life, and even as active members of the laity, as good husbands and wives, as members of faithful and committed Christian families, which are in themselves, the domestic Church where the faith is first nurtured in our young generation.

May the Lord God, our Saviour and our loving Father continue to watch over us and protect us and His Church, protect and guide our Church leaders especially the Pope, His Vicar in this world, and the successor of St. Peter the Apostle to whom He had given the keys of the kingdom of heaven as well as great authority and responsibility. May our Pope Francis, together with his brother bishops, continue to preserve faithfully the whole treasure of the wisdom of God and the truth of God as maintained in our Sacred Tradition, the Scriptures and the Magisterium of the Church, all united in St. Peter and his successors. May God bless us all and be with us always, now and till the end of time, until the day He brings us all into the eternal glory of Heaven. Amen.