Homily: The Power of the Keys

 A121OT21_1_cf03_4cWe might call this, “Power Sunday”. There is a theme of handing over “keys” which open and shut. We are reflecting on Power and asking that this gift be handed over to us that gives us the power to be open to all God’s gifts and to shut out what hinders our journey.

We want to recognize the authority Jesus gives each of us to use our gifts to continue God’s creation of the Kingdom in our time here. And, we want to tend to God’s garden of life. We want to give “power” a good name, a good image by the way we exercise compassion, patience, and justice.


  Let’s start with a careful reflection on the First Reading. Shebna has had a rather lofty image of himself as well as a high-up position in the palace. He has begun to really immortalize himself by beginning to construct his own tomb in a high place on the mountain. And God stops him in his tracks and tells him that he will be waded up like a ball and thrown out of the country with all his finery and he will die there in disgrace.

  God not only takes away Shebna’s symbols of domination, but God calls somebody else from a different family to rule God’s people. Eliakim will be a “father” to the people of Jerusalem and all the people will be his family under God. Instead of warring with power and striding about arrogantly because of his family of origin, Eliakim will be steadfast and use his authority for peace.

 In the Gospel, Jesus travels with His disciples to a city whose very name — Caesarea Philippi — celebrates Roman power and Caesar’s domination over Israel. And it is there that Jesus poses the big question for the purpose of eliciting a bigger Answer: “Who do people say that I am?”. For the first time in their relationship, Peter, speaking for the other disciples, declares publicly the name which is opposed to the power of Rome and all other worldly force. Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed and Expected One, and the Son of God.

 Peter, or Simon “son of Jonah” is given a new name and as with Eliakim, Simon is given a title and a power. Peter, the name in Greek and in Aramaic means “rock”. He is to be the foundation of the Church. Not Peter as person, but Peter’s profession of deep belief in Jesus as the Christ — that is the emphasis here.

Next Sunday’s Gospel will show Peter’s faith in Jesus tested severely. For now, though, we hear Jesus conveying upon this Rock, the “keys” of God’s power. The Book of Wisdom, says, “Your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all. But though you are master of might, you judge with kindness.” The “keys” which Peter receives are the instruments of governing as Jesus received that power from His Father. Those keys in the hands of Jesus opened ears, eyes, and hearts. Those “keys” in the hands of Jesus shut out darkness, evil, and death from dominating God’s creation and God’s family. That’s what real keys do; that’s what real Power does.

 From another perspective, today’s passage of the keys is often cited to prove papal primacy and the right of the Church to admit or exclude, to loose or unloose. But what really proves the authenticity or our mission is whether our personal priority is including others with leniency and kindness. We are the Church, those called together. We have our structures based on tradition and Scripture with our Pope Francis as chief key-holder. Each of us has been given the Key of the compassion into the very heart of God through Jesus. The power of God has been placed into our hands, and we don’t need to jingle it around as a false sign of belonging and domination. We are each invited to exercise Christ’s power to open ears, eyes, and hearts and to shut out the noises of dishonesty, false posturing, and false temptations to power.

 In the history of the Church, power has corrupted and made fools of those who used the power-keys for establishing their own importance. As with Shebna, God brought them down to size. Power can be used as a prop, as a crutch to assist the insecure of spirit. True power is received in open hands, not grabbed and wielded like a club. Each of us receive the power of the keys and our hands are stretched out to accept this blessed gift, this power. These are the same hands which are writing the new and present history of Christ’s church. This power does not corrupt, but in the hands of the faithful, it gives life to the world in His Name.

 Someone once wrote that power does not corrupt, but power in the hands of a fool, corrupts the fool. Keys can be a sign of control- car keys, house keys. I have observed that people who jingle their keys are saying that the power they have comes from outside; from what they possess. They make the noise of power to frighten away anybody who might not listen to the noise and might want to ask if anybody’s home in there. That is the fool who has been corrupted by pretentious power. This fool has been fooled by the evil of this world into thinking that things make you who you are, and one’s position proves one’s authenticity. On the high mountain, at the beginning of his public ministry, the Devil offered Jesus power over all things and told Jesus that this power would prove that Jesus was the “Son of God.” But Jesus had received His identity from the Father, and needed no jingling of power-keys to satisfy this world’s demands.

At a gathering of several of Wilkinsburg’s ministers this past week, we reflected on how similar with but a single incident our situation could become like that of Ferguson, Missouri and the false hopes that grip our community leaders. Everyone fears how one misunderstood incident might bring the same fearful crisis to our community. Leaders in Ferguson scramble for an end to the violence and instead create more violence in peaceful people with tear gas and national guard troops. And, as almost with blinders, nobody in our nation or in our own town notice what the real problems are — the addictions, the killing of the young, the spiritual emptiness in the lives of our residents; the pain in families and the despair of the jobless, while officials pat themselves on the back that they are getting state and federal grants to build new buildings and rehab old ones.

The pain and emptiness will still be in Fergeson when the national guard is gone, one minister said. But our job as church is to name the Evils, to bring Christ’s compassion to those suffering, to keep all eyes focused on the real needs of our community — not the lack of funding, but consequences of racism and the lack of seeing with compassion.

We have been given the keys. Let us not squander its power.

1 Comment

  1. Susan Lithgow

    Thu 21st Aug 2014 at 8:21 am

    So true, yet so sad about what will remain in Ferguson after the violence is quelled. How many will go back to their sheltered lives while Ferguson has to live with the aftermath and the lack of support that has been swelling up for decades?

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