This week’s Old Testament readings are filled with contrasting images of leaders, often depicted in battle, in action. Those whose faith is in God are exalted and do great things in His name; those whose faith is in themselves are humbled.
Don’t Flatter Yourself. In the first reading, Shebna is busy building a monument to himself when he gets a rather rude awakening. “The LORD shall hurl you down headlong … and roll you up and toss you like a ball” (Isaiah 22:17-18). He ends up being replaced by Eliakim who is loyal to God. This theme is developed earlier in the week in readings from Judges that contrast Israelite leaders Gideon and Jephthah, who are anointed by God, against Abimelech, who is a tyrant. Further, all this week’s gospel readings contain some variant of “the last shall be first.” The theme is hard to miss.
Good Plan. In Romans, Paul takes up God’s plan for salvation regarding both Jews and Gentiles, a significant issue for the early church. He emphasizes that God’s fidelity, proven in the past and present, will be the salvation of “all Israel” (Jews and Gentiles alike) in the future. Paul cautions the Gentiles against getting too full of themselves, reminding them that only by grace are they saved. This is the background for the second reading, in which Paul joyfully celebrates the wisdom of God’s plan for salvation and the triumph of His mercy.
Now Take the Keys. Foreshadowed by the first reading, Simon’s confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi in the gospel reading changes everything. Knowing Jesus as God incarnate is the foundation, the cornerstone, of the Christian life. Jesus emphasizes this by changing Simon’s name to Peter, which literally means rock, and making him the steward of His kingdom by giving him “the keys”. Now Peter is charged with building a church, which literally means a community of people who have been called out or set apart. His task is precisely the same as ours is today, to call people out of the world of selfishness, materialism, individualism, and violence, into a new way of thinking and acting, a heavenly city where peace, love, compassion, and forgiveness hold sway. This “work of God’s hands” (Psalm 138) is our share in His plan for the salvation of “all Israel”.
Catholcism 101. What is the Church Militant or Ecclesia Militans? Although the specific term is not used, it is one of the three states of the Church identified in paragraph 954 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and referenced in Lumen Gentium 49. Literally, it means those who are called out to serve or struggle, specifically against sin and the forces of evil in the world. Simply put, it’s us, so put on the armor of God and joyfully storm the gates of the netherworld!