ISAIAH 22:19-23. ROMANS 11:33-36 MATTHEW 16:33-36
he first scripture reading in the Sunday liturgy is chosen to compliment the Gospel passage. This week, it’s taken from the prophecy of Isaiah. It announces the downfall of Shebna, King Hezekiah’s comptroller. Isaiah tells him that he will soon be replaced by Eliakim. “I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open.”
Today’s Gospel recounts Simon’s profession of faith in Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Because of his insight Jesus awarded him the keys to the kingdom of heaven and changed his name. “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church…I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
The two accounts use the image of keys. Peter is given the keys to the king
dom because he’s a man of faith and recognizes the truth about Jesus; he is the Christ. Shebna has the keys of the palace taken from him because he’s corrupt.
Both accounts initiate a time of change. Simon, the loyal disciple and man of faith, has his name changed to Peter designating the new role he is to play in the kingdom. Shebna, the corrupt and grandiose comptroller of the palace who colluded with the Assyrians against Judah, will be divested of his position. The keys will be taken from him and given to Eliakim, an honest, loyal and virtuous man.
Both passages deal with revelations. Peter is revealed as the future leader of the Church who is given the power to forgive sin. Shebna is revealed as a thief and a traitor and will have his power taken from him and given to another.
Both of these passages aren’t difficult to understand. Shebna is deeply corrupt and pays the price for his treachery. Peter is a good man and receives a good man’s reward, the keys to the kingdom of God.
I could reflect on Peter as the rock. I could reflect on the power Peter was given to forgive sins. I could reflect on the nature of Shebna’s corruption – grandiosity, thievery and treason. But I find that, since the beginning of the pandemic in March, I’ve been tending to look at the scriptures in a different way. I look at them through the lens of prophecy because I think we’re in a prophetic moment. Sometimes prophecy comes through the voice of an oracle like Isaiah. Sometimes it comes through the interpretation of events or reading the signs of the times.
No one can ignore the epidemic that has turned our entire world upside down. Millions of people have fallen sick and hundreds of thousands have died. The economic impact of the pandemic has been devastating and is deepening. So many people are hurting. So many are questioning why this is
At least two things are happening. The pandemic is revealing the dark truth of our socio-economic-political dysfunction. Our healthcare system is showing its systemic inequality. Our national economic safety nets, like unemployment compensation and social security help just enough to keep the poor, poor. The pandemic is calling us to renew and revamp our social and economic structures. It’s revealing the impotency of our politics. It’s calling out our corruption. It’s giving us a chance to change.
At the same time it’s revealing our primary strength: the tenacity and selflessness of good people everywhere. Think of the multitude of our heroic front-line workers, the doctors and nurses, the EMS workers, the personal attendants, the postal workers, the train and bus personnel, the cleaners and janitors, the delivery persons, the supermarket workers, the meat packers, the teachers. They’re the rock our society is built upon and yet, tragically, many of them are the lowest paid workers in the nation.
The scriptures today speak of keys. In one case the keys to a new world were awarded to the man who saw the truth. In the other case the keys were taken away from a corrupt man who feels himself above the truth.
Looking at this moment in our history as a prophetic moment, I see the pandemic as a catalyst calling us to change and reform our society. There has been too much suffering in the world. It’s not the world God created. It’s the world we created. We’re being challenged to open our eyes to the truth – to be brave and courageous and to take all the political, economic and social steps necessary to make the world a better place for every person. Only then can the keys to the kingdom of light and truth be offered to us. Only then can we be awarded the keys to “a new heaven and a new earth.”