1 Pt 5:1-4; Ps 23:1-3a, 4-6; Mt 16:13-19: Although this feast is named after the chair of Saint Peter, in our readings there isn’t much sitting down or enthronement for that matter. In our responsorial psalm the LORD is shepherding. He leads sheep, refreshes souls, gives courage, spreads a banquet, and anoints with oil. Our LORD is a good shepherd. He is actively and intimately involved in our lives. Our Shepherd takes care of his sheep. We have no fear in his flock. We are dwelling in the House of the LORD for years unending. In the first letter of Saint Peter we hear a shepherd exhorting his fellow shepherds, “Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly.” In today’s gospel we witness the transfer of authority from The Good Shepherd, Jesus, to his appointed vicar, Saint Peter. Why this celebration of the keys in the midst of Lent? Perhaps we need to be reminded that growing in faith this Lent will make us more available for shepherding those who are among the lost sheep. Shepherding is a part of every believer’s vocation.
Our first reading intimates that not all the early shepherds were good shepherds. There may have been some use of constraint or even profit motive involved in certain leadership styles. The chief shepherd, Saint Peter, swiftly and clearly prohibits these behaviors and attitudes. Tending the flock has nothing to do with lording it over others. As the Lord Jesus explained to his first disciples, those who have power in the world operate by coercion and manipulation, and this leadership behavior is completely acceptable and even expected. However, in the Body of Christ there will be suffering in order to share in the glory to be revealed. If we are not sharing the in the suffering of the Body of Christ we will not share in the glory of our Head, Jesus the Christ. This kind of suffering creates a powerful unity among the shepherds and the sheep. It also makes us one with Christ, and this is real power. The power to reveal the presence of the Good Shepherd is seen in the ongoing struggles that may be lacking in the suffering of the Body of Christ. Then and only then will we receive the unfading crown of glory and find ourselves seated at the right hand of Power in a throne that lasts forever.
This interaction at Caesarea Philippi is the distillation of Lent. Indeed, all throughout these forty days we fast, pray, and give so that we can answer the Lord Jesus, directly, clearly, and without hesitation. When we are asked, “But who do you say that I am?” We want to be so solid in our faith that the Lord can build upon the rock of our life. His flesh and blood disciple Peter responded with such enthusiasm and certitude, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This answer arose from the depths of his relationship with the Father, as the Lord Jesus revealed. Saint Peter was ready to receive the keys and to become the rock of the early church, but he was later tested and failed. This powerful failure and repentance is such a wonderful testimony to our weakness and the Lord’s power to save us. Peter is ebullient and sometimes that’s out of strength and sometimes that’s out of weakness. We need to see both in our shepherds so that we never despair of God’s mercy. The rod and the staff of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, are his power used to guide and lead us into glory. Instead of a chair the Lord Jesus gives Saint Peter the keys to loosen and bind, these are his power to guide and lead us into the glory of the Kingdom. For both rod and staff and keys to loosen and to bind we give thanks in this feast and throughout our lives.