In the Gospel Lesson today, Jesus and the Apostles are in the area of Caesarea Philippi. This was a Greek settlement in northern Galilee. Near the city was a pagan shrine to the god Pan, who was the god of fertility, the wild, and helper of those seeking good fortune. The area contained lush vegetation and fresh water springs. It was an ideal location for people to rest. As the Apostles watched people relaxing and visiting the shrine, theological discussion arose.
Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” St. Matthew remembers everyone voicing possibilities, “John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” But, St. Peter has a moment of clarity and responds, “You are the Christ! The Son of the Living God!” The evangelist wants us to understand that faith comes before understanding. After we have faith, we can then say, “I believe,” then we ask, “What are the reasons for my belief?” Insight does not bring about faith; it is the result of faith.
After St. Peter’s profession of faith, Jesus makes known the primacy of St. Peter. “You are a Rock, and upon you I will build my Church.” This is more than a compliment. Jesus wants the Apostles to know that the Father has spoken to Peter. As a result, Peter identifies Jesus as the Son of God and the Christ.
Many times in the Gospels, our Lord will ask a question and St. Peter responds for all of the disciples. The Gospels do show us that St. Peter had a unique position of authority in the ancient Church.
In the episode presented to us today, Our Lord acknowledges St. Peter’s position by giving him the appropriate credentials to exercise his role. “I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
The prayers of St. Peter and all his successors have a power that touches heaven. As the chosen ones of God, the ministry of our Popes has an impact on all our lives. For that reason, whenever we join our prayers to that of our Popes, we ask for God’s wisdom to guide them as the successor of St. Peter.
The Gospel Lesson also contains a message for each of us. Just like St. Peter and our Popes, we too have keys. They can unlock for us the graces of God, or if we choose, they can lock us out of His grace. The key is faith. As we apply our faith to the situations of life, we gain understanding of God and ourselves.