August 23, 2020 – Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Isaiah 22:19-23 / Romans 11:33-36 / Matthew 16:13-20
I will be delivering the following homily at St. Pius X Church in Indianapolis today:
Back in the old days – before ATMs, drive-through service, and mobile apps – human beings used cash, wrote checks and even, at times, went inside of banks.
I remember on one occasion going to the bank to cash a check. It was raining, so I ran to the door, only to discover I had arrived early and the outer door was still locked. A nice lady with a key felt sorry for me, and unlocked the door.
We stood in the lobby awkwardly together, as the second door – the inner door – remained locked. The woman told me she was a teller, and we both needed to wait for the assistant manager to unlock the inner door.
At 9:00 a.m. sharp, the assistant manager unlocked the door. He greeted me as I entered and I then waited patiently for the teller to get her workspace in order so I could conduct my business.
As I waited, another customer entered and explained to the assistant manager that she needed to get to her safe deposit box. “Certainly,” he replied. “Let me get the manager for you.”
Moments later the manager emerged from her office, with a set of keys in her hand and a smile on her face. She greeted the customer, escorted her to the opposite corner of the bank, and using her keys, unlocked the vault area and led her down a hallway to where I presume she was given access to her safe deposit box.
Three employees in the bank – each granted a specific level of authority as well as the keys necessary to act on that authority.
While that is a fascinating look at the inner workings of a bank, what does it have to do with today’s gospel?
Well, put in simple terms, today Peter was promoted to assistant manager.
Keys, as well as the authority and responsibilities that come along with those keys, are the focus of the gospel. Simon Peter said to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”
By virtue of our baptism, we have been given our first key. To carry out our banking analogy, through our baptism, we are all tellers. We are able to unlock the outer door and, from the lobby, look in and see the beauty of the Church and the richness of our faith.
What earned Peter a promotion that day was his unwavering belief that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God AND his willingness to speak this truth aloud. It was a both / and situation. Had he believed and held that belief in his heart without speaking it OR if he had spoken it without actually believing it, he would have remained on the outside – in the lobby if you will – looking in.
Hearing Peter’s sincere declaration, Jesus immediately promoted him and gave him “the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”
It should be noted for clarity that Peter was not given the authority to admit individuals into God’s eternal kingdom – that authority resides with God alone. Rather, he was given the authority to share the gospel message with others – allowing others to see and experience the beauty of the Church and the richness of our faith. His keys opened doors that made eternal life possible for all who chose to enter.
In our bank analogy, Peter will forever be an assistant manager. He will be the top assistant manager and will train others and serve as the head of the Assistant Manager Association – but there is only one manager, and only the manager can decide who enters the vault.
Entire volumes have been written on this gospel passage. Jesus not only gave Peter “the keys to the kingdom of heaven”, but also called him “the rock upon which I will build my church.” These combined statements by Jesus are often used as supporting evidence of the establishment of the Catholic Church with Peter as her first Pope.
However, more than a lesson in church history, we are offered a strong practical message: If we desire eternal life, we must be willing to do as Peter did – declare and share, with conviction, our belief in Jesus Christ.
We learn that authority comes with additional responsibilities. Those responsibilities are focused outward, toward God and others. Those with a key should have but one goal – to help others obtain a key as well, allowing them the possibility of attaining eternal life.
The Church is clear on its teachings regarding authority.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read – Those with authority must exercise that authority for the common good. The common good is to be understood as conditions which allow individuals to reach fulfillment more fully and more easily. (CCC1906)
Those who exercise authority should do so as a service. (CCC2235)
So to be clear, belief in and intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ, while beautiful and compelling, is not enough. If we hope to attain eternal life, we must help others attain it as well.
If I were to have walked up to that assistant manager and said, “Tell me about your bank,” he would have done so with great enthusiasm. He would have pulled a brochure from the display rack and talked me through all of the services they offered. He would have given me a tour of the bank, introducing me to some of the regular customers waiting in line. He would have pointed out the vault – it was where my most valuable possessions could be kept safe.
Finally, he would have invited me to sit down by his desk and enjoy a cup of coffee together. While sipping our hot coffee, he would have spoken of his own personal journey with the bank. He would have shared that this bank was a community, a family. From his first day as a teller, he felt at home there.
He would have shared his own personal experience with the bank. In doing so, he would have built a relationship with me and invited me into a relationship with the bank.
The bottom line message here is that our Church needs more assistant managers. We need to share with others all that the Church and our shared faith life have to offer. We need to share our experience of Church – the Sacraments, communal prayer, a spiritual home, hospitality and community, support, encouragement, and LOVE. We need to tell our stories of God’s active and loving presence in our lives. Remember that our call as apostles is to go out and preach the gospel to all the nations.
There is nothing wrong with being a teller. However, as a teller, know that the day will come that you’ll want to get into the vault. How will you respond when the bank manager, holding the key, locks eyes with you and asks, “How many people have you invited to the bank?”