Reflection for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

The readings for this Sunday can be found at

1st Reading: Isaiah 22:19–23

 Intro:  Isaiah is speaking God’s words to Shebnah, the chief steward of the king of Judah, Hezekiah. He tried to get the King to revolt against Assyria and get help from Egypt. Isaiah was informing him that he was standing in the way of God’s will being done. Because of that, as we shall hear, God will strip him of his power and replace him with someone who will do God’s will.

2nd Reading: Romans 11:33–36

Intro:  We pick up right where we left off last week. If you’ll remember, Paul was saying how the Lord uses our disobedience and his mercy to save us. Remember, Paul used the logic pattern of his day to explain it. Now he praises God’s wisdom for saving us in that way, even though we can’t fully understand God’s thoughts or actions.

Gospel: Matthew 16:13–20

Summary:  Who do you say that the Son of Man is? No human has told you this. Upon this rock I will build my church (assembly)…

What did you hear? Did you hear that Jesus was founding the Catholic Church? Don’t focus on that… because when we do, we think of the Catholic Church as distinct from Judaism. That’s not what is happening here. The institutional Catholic Church that we know today is a natural development from what Jesus did in this Gospel. So, let’s look at how it got started. What was Jesus doing?

The word we translate as “church” is ekklesia. The Romans would have thought of the assembly of free-born citizens called together to take care of some public work (liturgia). The Jewish people for whom Matthew’s Gospel was written may have thought of an assembly of Jewish people. Jesus needed people to form an assembly to carry on his work. He was calling together (creating an assembly of) his disciples to carry out his mission in the world.

Did you also hear that Peter got the right answer, so he was put in charge? He did get the right answer but I don’t think that is why he was put in charge. Jesus wasn’t conducting a contest here. According to the connecting phrase “And so”, Jesus put him in charge because he had a revelation from the Father. Like Jesus, Peter had a relationship with the Father that allowed the Spirit to guide his thoughts and actions. Who better to lead the assembly of disciples gathered together to carry on the work of the Lord?

An assembly of disciples gathered together to carry on the work of the Lord… Is that what the Church is? You’d better believe it! And you’re the worker bees! That is why we gather, i.e. assemble, every Sunday to open ourselves to God’s revelations to us, to join the work of our lives to the Lord’s, to be nourished as we commit ourselves to the work, and to be sent out to accomplish the work we’ve committed to. That is how church works.

And, that’s why the Mass is structured the way it is.

  1. In the Opening Rites, we gather as a community of disciples, gathered with the Lord.
  2. In the Liturgy of the Word we dialogue with the Lord. We hear the Word proclaimed and reflect on how God’s Word touches into our day-to-day lives before we open our words of prayer in the General Intercessions.
  3. Then, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we offer sacrifice in response to God’s speaking. We ask the Holy Spirit to make our Lord’s sacrifice of 2,000 years ago present to our day and time and we join the offering of our lives to his to make one gift to the Father.
  4. In Communion, we are nourished to live out our offering during the week as we commit to it with our “amen”.
  5. Then the deacon, or priest if there is no deacon, dismisses us to live out our offering in the mission field of our day-to-day lives.
  6. We return the following week to give our Lord the fruits of our work in the world and to make offering for the new week.

If we enter fully into the Mass, conscious of the work being done, there is no way it doesn’t become the center of our lives… lives of purpose.

Are you really part of the Lord’s assembly? Are you doing your part?


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. Mt 16:18


What words or phrases grabbed your attention during the Liturgy of the Word on Sunday? What connection do those words or phrases have to your day-to-day life? (Why do you think they grabbed your attention?) What might God be trying to say to you through these words or phrases? What response should you make? What action should you take?


Reflect upon/Share about your experience of being a member of “Church”. Do you feel like you are part of a group of disciples assembled together to carry out a mission? What would need to change for you to feel more deeply a member of a group of disciples on mission?

Verse by Verse:

Mt 16:13 – Caesarea Philippi. This city was founded by Philip the Tetrarch. It was an entirely gentile city. (JBC) Does this specific location have a function in the story? Since Matthew’s Gospel was written for Jewish Christians, it seems weird to me.

Mt 16:13 – “Who do people say the Son of Man is? This story is told in all three of the synoptic Gospels but only Matthew uses the title “Son of Man”. In Matthew’s Gospel the son of man is the one who is to come, the messiah who would be God’s anointed, who would deliver Israel from bondage, and restore the kingdom to its former glory. The Son of Man, in Matthew, is probably connected to the suffering servant songs of Isaiah. (AYB)

Mt 16:14 – To the answers John the Baptist (see 14:2) and Elijah, or another of the prophets, which appear in Mark’s and Luke’s Gospels, Mt adds Jeremiah. The belief in the return of Elijah was derived from Mal 3:23-24; also see Sir 48:10; Mt 17:3, 10-13. The addition of Jeremiah may not be unrelated to the belief expressed in 2 Mc 15:13-16 that Jeremiah appears and gives Judas Maccabeus a sword with which he will defeat his enemies. (JBC)

Mt 16:16 – Mt adds “the Son of the living God” to the answer Peter gives in Mk & Luke. There is much discussion as to what this would have meant at the time related by the story, what it would have meant to the early Church and what it means to us today.

Kings and emperors, in the ancient world, who were given similar titles were considered the authorized representatives of the gods to whom they were considered sons. Even some Jewish kings were considered “Sons of the Lord” without them being considered to have real familial relationship.

The Transfiguration story reported in all three synoptic Gospels report a voice saying “This is my beloved son. Listen to him” (Mt 17:5, Mk 9:7 and Lk 9:35). This could be taken as God saying Jesus is his representative as was a common use of the term in the ancient world.

But John’s Gospel cast Jesus’ sonship in a stronger light. In John 5:18 the Gospel says “For this reason the Jews tried all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God.” The real familial relationship is clear here.

Also, Phil 2:6 may be the first verse to claim that Jesus is God by nature but the word is not necessarily translated as such; “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped”. The Greek word translated here as “form” is translated as “nature” in other translations. In the very next phrase Paul uses the same Greek word to mean “appearance of” although he meant more than physical appearance or looks.

Mt 16:17 “my Father has revealed this to you…”is not in Mk or Lk. It seems important to me that Peter’s profession, as we call it, was based on a spiritual experience, the Father revealing it to him. Even though his understanding must have been connected to his day-to-day experience of Jesus, most people would say that Jesus did fit the bill of being the long awaited messiah who was expected to be a powerful leader who would deliver Israel from bondage and re-establish the kingdom.

Mt 16:18 “And so… upon this rock I will build my church” is also not in Mk or Lk. In scripture God often changes a person’s name to signify that a special mission was given to that person.

The words “And so”, which begin this sentence, connect it to the previous sentence about the Father revealing to Peter. Was Peter chosen because of his relationship with the Father?

“…I shall build my church.” The word translated as “church”, ekklesia, here means “those called out” or “assembly”. To the Romans it meant an assembly of people called out from the community to deliberate on some civil question; voters. It speaks of the type of assembly the Roman Senate was, a group of people called out from the free-born citizenry to serve the community.

The “gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” = death shall not prevail against it. In the Creed Jesus descends into hell (the netherworld) but cannot be contained by death; “he rose again on the third day.” Death (the powers of death) shall not prevail against the Lord’s assembly.

Mt 16:19 “the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.” The keys are symbolic of a position like that held by Shebna in the first reading, “master of the palace.” The authority of the royal steward was complete. The keys symbolize that he granted or withheld access to the monarch. Notice in the first reading that Shebna’s replacement will become a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. This is in stark contrast to Shebna’s authoritarian manner.

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