I find a fascinating parallel in today’s gospel (Matthew 16:13-20). First, we’re told exactly what the people think about the real identity and authority of Jesus, at this point in his public ministry. Some people are confused, and think Jesus is a copy of, or even a return of, John the Baptist or one of the prophets such as Elijah or Jeremiah.
Jesus responds to Peter’s insight, his discernment that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, telling him that he has the only correct answer – and that he had received that revelation as a grace from God the Father. Accordingly, Jesus promised to make Peter the head of the Church that he would establish, a promise that absolutely contains the “succession principle” regarding that continuing authority.
There seems to be a parallel with the confusion with some people today who are unable to see the source of the true authority underlying the papal office in Rome. It was and is an office bestowed by Jesus himself upon Peter. Yet some people have a problem with humility, finding it difficult to submit to that spiritual authority in matters of faith and morals, despite its origin in Jesus Christ the Son of God.
The Church tries to make the matter very clear by its choice of the relational First Reading (Isaiah 22:19-23). Isaiah prophesies that Shebna will be replaced as chief steward over the king’s household matters, and this is signified and cemented by the “bestowal of the keys.” Just so, Peter was granted “the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” and there just isn’t a kingdom bigger than that one – a kingdom that will last forever!
The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the “rock” of his Church. He gave him alone the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock.