The 21st Sunday of the Year

Is 22:19-23; Rom 11:33-36; Mt 16:13-20 (Year A)

‘Thus says the Lord of hosts to Shebna, the master of the palace: I dismiss you from your post, and the same day I call my servant Eliakim. I invest him with your robe, entrust him with your authority.”

We might be forgiven for not immediately recognising who Shebna and Eliakim were, and what role they played in the history of Israel. They were, in today’s understanding, senior civil servants in the government of Jerusalem. Eliakim had used his position as head of staff to promote his own power and influence.

Therefore the God of Israel dismissed him in favour of Eliakim who would become “a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem”. He would be entrusted with the key of the house of David, so that he might open the door, not only to the royal palace, but also to the many graces that God had promised to his people through the house of David.

Rather than dismiss this narrative as an insignificant detail of long forgotten domestic politics, we should allow it to challenge our own thinking. What are we called to in life, what do we achieve and how are our achievements to be judged? Shebna saw life and influence as an opportunity for himself. Eliakim was called by God to open doors to those less blessed than himself.

The only lasting authority that we are ever likely to know is the authority of service. Today’s familiar Gospel takes our understanding of life and its authority to an entirely different level. At Caesarea Philippi, Jesus began to probe the faith of his disciples. They had been with him for some time, and were clearly attracted by his personality and teaching. What Jesus wanted to know was, were they willing to accept him as the Lord of their lives? He began with a general question, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

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