21st Sunday In Ordinary Time
One of the many titles of a Pope is the Vicar of Christ. Vicar is a term that still is used today. It is a person who acts in the place of someone higher in authority. A Parochial Vicar, a regular parish priest, acts in the name of his Pastor. An Episcopal Vicar acts in the name of his Bishop. Since there is no higher authority in the Church than the Pope, this makes total sense: he acts in the name of Jesus Himself. It might also make more sense to know that Kings in the Davidic Dynasty, i.e. from King David on, were called Vicars of Yahweh, they acted on God’s authority.
These Israeli Kings, like all other nations, had their cabinet of ministers. If we think in terms of the present, a country like England might have a Minister of Finance, a Minister of the Interior, a Minister of Transportation, etc. All of these fall under the authority of one person who is called the Prime Minister. This person has the total authority of the King or Queen (that is, in cases where the person on the throne is not just a figurehead). The Kingdom of David was no different. If this sounds far fetched, think of Joseph in Egypt. He held this role, called vizier in Egypt, under Pharaoh. After Joseph interpreted his dream for him, “Pharaoh said to Joseph: “Since God has made all this known to you, no one can be as wise and discerning as you are. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people shall dart at your command. Only in respect to the throne shall I outrank you. Herewith,” Pharaoh told Joseph, “I place you in charge of the whole land of Egypt” (Gen 41:39-41).
All of the Davidic Kings had what we could call a Prime Minister, a vizier, the master of the house, the chamberlain of the royal household. There are two of them mentioned in the First Reading today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It mentions Shebna, Master of the Palace, who was corrupt and was being thrown down in disgrace from office. Isaiah speaks of him being replaced by Eliakim. “I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open” (Is 22:21-2).
Guess who is the last and final King in the Davidic Dynasty? Yes: Jesus�King of Kings and Lord of Lords�The Eternal King of whom the Holy Spirit speaks in Psalm 89, “By my holiness I swore once for all: I will never be false to David. His dynasty will continue forever, his throne, like the sun before me. Like the moon it will stand eternal, forever firm like the sky!” (Ps 89:36-38). How does this kingdom operate? Just like the way it did with the rest of the Kings who preceded Him. Jesus chose a Prime Minister! He chose to give his full authority to a person to exercise it for Him. No one would have been surprised by this. This was standard operating procedure. Listen to His words to Peter, “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.” And NOTE: Jesus says He is giving the “keys!” Obviously, He does not have any keys in His hands. Rather, He is transferring His full authority to Peter. He is making him the first Pope, who too will be a father to the inhabitants he serves�a Holy Father!
He can do this! Read how Jesus speaks about Himself in the Book of Revelation,
To the angel of the church in Philadelphia, write this: “The holy one, the true, who holds the key of David, who opens and no one shall close, who closes and no one shall open, says this: “I know your works (behold, I have left an open door before you, which no one can close). You have limited strength, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name…. Hold fast to what you have, so that no one may take your crown.””
An Eternal King, using this approach, will need more than one person to assume this role. There must be a succession of Popes to accomplish what Jesus set in motion, at least until the end of time.
Ever question the Pope’s authority to teach? That is a dangerous thing to do. Jesus told His apostles, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” The opposite of this is very plain: we reject the one who sent Jesus�Yes, the Father! Believe what is written here. Understand! The Holy Father has Full Authority! It is the same authority that Pope John Paul I had and Pope Paul VI and Pope John XXIII and Pope Pius XII and…. I am sure you got the point! It was just passed on from that first day it was given to Peter from Jesus Himself.
Ready for more? The teaching of the Pope is not just one opinion among many or something that he arbitrarily chooses to teach. One of the best descriptions of this comes from a commentary by on Saint Matthew’s gospel from the Anchor Bible Series by Protestant commentators William F. Albright and C.S. Mann. The emphasis here is mine:
On being asked who they themselves suppose him to be, Peter answers that he is the Messiah, son of the living God. Jesus calls Peter fortunate, in that this knowledge has not come from human sources, but is a direct revelation from God. He goes on to assure Peter that he (Peter) is the rock on which the new community will be built, and in that community Peter’s authority to “bind” or “release” will be a carrying out of decisions made in heaven. His teaching and disciplinary activities will be similarly guided by the Spirit to carry out Heaven’s will.
When analyzing the words “bind,” the authors say, “The role of Peter as steward of the Kingdom is further explained as being the exercise of administrative authority, as was the case of the Old Testament chamberlain who held the “keys.” The words “on earth,” and “in heaven” refer to the permanent character of the steward’s work.
What is Heaven’s will is God’s will. What God’s will is for us, He has revealed. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation from Vatican II teaches us it is “Through divine revelation, [which] God chose to show forth and communicate himself and the eternal decisions of his will regarding the salvation of men.” And, therefore, “The obedience of faith” (Rm 16:26; cf. Rm 1:5; 2 Cor 10:5-6) “is to be given to God who reveals, an obedience by which man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals,”(4) and freely assenting to the truth revealed by him.
If the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, which he is, and Jesus is God, and we owe this submission and obedience to God, we also owe it to the Pope and his teachings�the popular ones and unpopular too! Your salvation and mine depends on it. You can bet on it! Or maybe better: do not try betting against it. The odds are not in your favor!
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