Jesus Establishes a Sacred Order

(Homily for Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A)

In her article The New Evangelization and Gender: The Remystification of the Body Dr. Joyce A. Little states:

"If there is one theological insight more crucial than any other to the re-evangelization of this nation, it lies in recognizing the true meaning and significance of the word "hierarchy." Hierarchy comes from two Greek words, hieros, meaning "sacred," and archein, meaning rule or order. Hierarchy, therefore, means "sacred order." The Trinity is a hierarchy, because the three Persons are ordered to one another in their equal possession of the fullness of wisdom, goodness and love. The opposite of hierarchy is not equality, as so many people today seem to think. The opposite of hierarchy is one of two things: either anarchy, the absence of all order, or tyranny, the imposition of a desacralized, unholy order of oppression by the most powerful against the least."*

In today’s Gospel we see Jesus establishing a sacred order. He begins by telling Simon his insight (“You are the Christ, Son of the Living God”) did not come from the natural order, but from the Father. Then he changes Simon's name to rock, stating that upon him he will build his church. Those words rankle people who want Jesus' Church to become a free-flowing, egalitarian institution. But it gets worse.

Jesus not only identifies Peter as the rock foundation of his Church, he gives him extraordinary powers. The Old Testament lesson tells about Eliakim who replaces a palace official named Shebna. The process involved having the “key of the house of David” placed on his shoulder. It gave him an authority next to the King. Likewise, Jesus entrusts the “keys of the kingdom” to Peter, so he can open and shut, loose and bind.

I sometimes ask children, “What happened to the keys? Were they buried with Peter?” They were not. He passed them to his successor, in this case Linus, who in turn gave them to Cletus. When I ask the children who holds the keys today, they know the answer: Pope John Paul II. That Jesus meant the keys to be handed on is evident from his words, “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it (my church).”

Thus Jesus established a sacred order, a hierarchy for his Church. It does not mean every utterance of the pope will be correct. Nor does it mean his every action will be holy. History unfortunately provides many examples to the contrary. But it does mean we can trust that the Holy Spirit will use the magisterium, which Jesus set up, to give us sound doctrine.

This is no small guarantee. When you consider how many divergent teachings have sprung up (all of them claiming a Scriptural basis**) it is quite amazing the 265 popes from Peter to John Paul II have held such a steady course. Small credit goes to human holiness or wisdom. Even Peter, so close to Christ, made embarrassing stumbles. For the Petrine office we can only give credit to Christ and his Holy Spirit. He willed a sacred order for his Church. Our task today is to see beyond scandals and disappointments – and to find our place within that order.


*A classic example of tyranny is Nazism. Hitler did not strive for "order" but rather set up competing beauracracies, each answerable to him alone. (See Lukacs Hitler of History.) In his book on D-Day, Stephen Ambrose shows how the inner disorder of Nazi government gave the Allies a great advantage.

**Ardent Christians like Martin Luther and John Milton argued in favor of polygamy. No pope made such blunders. See Mark Shea The Pickle of Private Judgment

Spanish Version

From Archives (for Twenty-first Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2008: Three Unavoidable Questions
2005: The Two Keys
2002: Jesus Establishes a Sacred Order
1999: I Will Build My Church

From Archives (Homilies for Peter & Paul):

Did Jesus Found the Church?
Year of St. Paul
What Peter Meant to Paul
Rabbi, Messiah, Cephas
The Two Keys
Jesus Establishes a Sacred Order
I Will Build My Church

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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