Sunday Reflection with Fr Robin Gibbons - 23 July 2020

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

How often have I heard a sermon preached on these words of Jesus found in Matthew 16:18-20 : "And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,*and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it" turn from an exegesis on the text to a gentle polemic on the importance of the Papacy as an office continuing the ministry of Peter. It seems clear, does it not, that the words Peter, 'petros', and the rock 'petra' are intertwined, his other name Cephas, a Greek transcription of the aramaic word for rock or outcrop, making it more obvious that the church built on a rock is built on that of Peter's ministry and mission. But as usual we need guidance on the translations here, the Greek 'petra' is rock but it is feminine, 'Petros, Peter is masculine, so look carefully, not for the first time there is a great deal of word play here, which also allows some different interpretations, is this important? I believe so because there are just too many people picking scripture apart to serve their own ends, not allowing the Word to do its business, pierce our hearts, minds and lives and challenge us to grow in living faith. This is a call to love scripture more, go boldly into the meaning of what is before us, then we shall find great treasure.

So how do we allow the words of Matthew to reach into our faith journey today? Is it simply for us as Catholics to reaffirm the role of the Pope and Petrine office? No! That will not do, because it removes the whole sequence of events from its proper context and adds future layers of development onto words that are direct, challenging and immediate! Just remember later on in Matthew 18:18 we are shown Jesus giving the power of the keys to all the apostles, not simply Peter, and by an extension to those, like ourselves who gather in His name, this is about ministry for the ages!

One commentator helps us by pointing to the central aspect of today's Gospel reading, namely that 'it is this confession of Jesus as God's anointed Messiah, a confession that sets Peter and the other disciples apart'. We have also to remind ourselves that the power of the keys is not about power but about love, mercy and forgiveness. It is about Christ who is the 'alpha' and 'omega' of our Christian lives. We too have to confess Jesus as Lord. So go straight to those opening words and realise this is what Christ is asking each of us, not once but continually, 'who do you say I am?'

Here then is the meaning at the heart of this powerful Gospel story, Peter makes the dramatic confession of faith in Jesus, from hints and guesses, from ignorance to knowledge, Peter despite all his frailties knows who Christ truly is. Everything points back to Christ who has come in the flesh and forward to his second coming , so Peter may indeed be the "rock," but the church built on his shaky foundation does not belong to him, nor to those who follow, or to any other church leader, this ecclesia is a living entity of people who belong to Jesus, 'exclusively and entirely'.

This is what we need to continually remind ourselves about, we belong to the living church on this earth, but it is to the Kingdom we are bound and already belong to, it is this against this Kingdom that the gates of the netherworld, that is death, will never prevail. This is the ultimate gift of the Lord who trampled down death and rose to new life, and it is the final victory of love. This is what Peter confesses as we do after him.

'Amid so many passing things, the Lord wants to remind us of what will remain forever: love, because "God is love". (Pope Francis Tweet 21 August)

Lectio divina

Matthew 18:18-20

18 "Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 "Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."

Two Tweets from Pope Francis this week (August 22nd)

God has no need to be defended by anyone and does not want His name to be used to terrorize people. We call upon everyone to stop using religions to incite hatred, violence, extremism and blind fanaticism.

Amid so many passing things, the Lord wants to remind us of what will remain forever: love, because "God is love".


For though you think heaven still shut, remember that the Lord left here to Peter and through him to the Church, the keys of it, which every one who has been here put to the question, and also made confession, will carry with him.

Tags: Sunday Reflection with Fr Robin Gibbons, 23 August 2020, Peter

We Need Your Support

ICN aims to provide speedy and accurate news coverage of all subjects of interest to Catholics and the wider Christian community. As our audience increases - so do our costs. We need your help to continue this work.

Please support our journalism by donating today.