‘You Are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’

User’s Guide to Sunday, Aug. 27

Sacred Heart of Jesus
Sacred Heart of Jesus (photo: Unsplash)

Sunday, Aug. 27, is the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: Isaiah 22:19-23; Psalm 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20.

The Gospel today sets forth the biblical basis for the Office of Peter, the Office of the Papacy, for Peter’s successors are the popes. Let’s look at the basic establishment of the Office of Peter in three steps.

The Inquiry That Illustrates

The text says, “Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others Elijah; still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’” Jesus’ first two questions reveal the inadequacy of two common methods. First, there is the poll; Jesus asks who the crowds say that he is. But taking a poll doesn’t necessarily yield the truth. In fact, in this case, all of the assertions of the crowd were wrong. Secondly, there is the panel of experts. He asks the Twelve, “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus is met with silence. Having set forth this inadequacy, the Gospel now describes the plan of God in adequately setting forth the truths of faith.

The Individual That Is Inspired 

The text says, “Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.’” We are taught here not merely that Peter spoke what was true, but also how he came to know the truth. Jesus is clear that flesh and blood did not reveal this to him. Rather, Peter came to know the truth and speak it because God the Father revealed it to him. There is a kind of anointing at work here. So it is not polls or panels that God uses — it is Peter. While truths may emerge in the wider Church reflecting what is revealed, it is through Peter and his successors who, uniting the bishops, definitively sets forth views whose truth is adequately guaranteed. 

The Installation That Is Initiated

The text says, “And so I say to you, ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church ... 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.’” Jesus does not merely praise Simon for a moment of charismatic insight. He goes further, declaring that he will build his very Church upon Simon, whom he renames Peter (“rock”).  Thus the Lord Jesus establishes not only Peter, but also his office. This is God’s vision and plan for his Church. 

The papal office endures; it remains our duty to pray for and respect the pope and to seek to maintain unity, with charity and manifest goodwill. The Protestant experiment tried to replace the pope with Scripture, giving it sole authority, but it has failed to unite them. 

Jesus has installed an individual in this role to manifest his office of rock and head: Peter and his successors.