TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY A: HOMILY BY Fr. Matthias Lusembo

THEME: LEGITIMATE AUTHORITY COMES FROM GOD

The Objective of the Homily is that we view authority in the light of faith and exercise it according to God’s commandments.

Today’s readings are about authority. Unlike power which is one’s ability to force another into action, authority is the legal and formal right to take decisions and get things done. Authority refers to the rights and responsibilities that are assigned to a person in a position of control.

Unlike power, which is self-generated, authority is hierarchical. It originates from God, the Commander in Chief of all commanders in chief. But He can take it back any time, especially if the delegate misuses it. You have heard of religious and political leaders stripped of their authority due to abuse. Even some parents have lost custody of their children because of not exercising well their authority over their children. 

In Isaiah 22: 19-23 God takes authority from the unfaithful and selfish Prime Minister Shebna and gives it to the humble and faithful Eliakim.

The installation of Eliakim as the new Prime Minister prepares us to understand the gospel of today where we are told that Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter. Eliakim received keys to signify that he had authority in the palace of the king. He got authority to administer the king’s property and to decide who was to be received and who should be kept out of the palace.  

Secondly, Eliakim would be “father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.” (Is 22:21). “This too leads us towards a proper understanding of the authority that Jesus has entrusted to Peter. It is not a power similar to that of some politicians, it is not a permission and an authorization to do and impose what one likes and even less a right to receive honors and privileges. It consists in being like a father ever ready to sacrifice his life for his sons” and daughters (Armellini Ferdinando, Celebrating the Word Year A, p. 240).

With Psalm 138, David thanks God for having raised him from lowly origins and given him authority as king over the people of Israel. 

In Romans 11: 33-36, St. Paul praises God for the depth of His wisdom, knowledge, and correct judgments, implying that God has authority.

In the Gospel text (Mt 16:13-20), Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, and therefore source of authority, earns him teaching and ruling authority in the Church. 

By Jesus’ statement, “I will give you the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven,” he gives Peter and his successors the authority to make laws in the Church, and the assurance that their decisions will be ratified in Heaven. Hence, Peter is ordained and installed Pope by Jesus Christ himself.

This implies that in the Church the Bishop of Rome is the one responsible for maintaining the unity of the faith in Christ” (ibidem p. 243).

This authority is not reserved only for Peter, but it is conferred subsequently to the successors (Jn 20:23) and to the whole Church (MT 18:18) to transmit the teachings of Christ and to judge what agrees with the Gospel and what is contrary to it.

Because this authority trickled down to me through a Bishop connected with the Pope, I am authorized to preach to you, to give absolution and to cause transubstantiation. Otherwise you would have only symbols and not the Body and Blood of Christ, after the Eucharistic Prayer. When the terminally sick invite me to give them a visa to heaven, I declare to them: “By the authority which the Apostolic See has given me, I grant you a full pardon and remission of all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Off they go!

The fact that God gave rights and duties to each one of us authorizes us to elect civil leaders who can protect those rights and duties. That means, through us God delegates His authority to elected civil rulers to serve the people. Let us keep that in mind during elections, so that we elect people who will exercise God’s authority according to His commandments.

Let us remain united around the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, whose authority comes from Christ, whom we receive in the Holy Eucharist.

Let us always exercise our God-given authority according to God’s commandments, otherwise God can take it back. Let us be obedient to legitimate authority, because legitimate authority comes from God.