When I was about 7 or 8 years old, I learned a very important lesson. One Sunday afternoon our family took a walk to the local park. While there we enjoyed a boat ride on the local lake, had fun on the carousel, and too quickly came the time to walk home. Dad was in a good mood, so as we began our walk back from the park he decided to do some cartwheels. Very impressive!
Finally, when we arrived home Dad was about to get the key to the front door. As it turned out, he lost the key doing the cartwheels. The house key was in his shirt pocket.
However, we eventually got in. My lesson was to appreciate the importance of the key. Keep it in a safe place. Later I began to appreciate the symbolism of the key. It is a sign of authority. The key holder can let people in or keep them out.
The Gospel for the Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matt. 16:13-20) appears to place a great deal of importance to keys. It seems to me that in order to get a fuller picture of the Gospel, we should focus on two themes: The identification of Jesus, and the importance of the key.
First of all, the identification of Jesus. Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do others say that I am?” I could imagine the disciples with a quizzical look on their faces, rubbing their chins, looking heavenward, and replying, “Some say you are John the Baptist.” “Others say you are Elijah.” “Maybe Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”
Then Jesus focused his question, “But who do YOU say that I am?” It was important for the disciples to know the master, since they were going to continue his work.
Peter blurts out, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” It is necessary to point out what Peter was actually saying. “Christ” is the translation for the Hebrew word “Messiah,” which means “The one who was sent.” It appears that Peter was a believer in the Immanuel (=”God with us”) promise, that God would be with his people.
Secondly, the theme of the keys. After this profession of faith and recognizing Peter’s leadership potential, Jesus employs the image of the keys indicating authority. “…I will give you the KEYS of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matt: 16:19)
Now would be a proper time to ask the question of what this part of the Gospel could mean to me personally. Actually, when we are baptized we become disciples of Jesus. “Discipleship” means “the learning process.” The disciple learns from the master, and we have much of the New Testament telling us what Jesus said and did regarding others.
Thus we learn about justice, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and other virtues. Our belief system is manifested by our behavior pattern. Our KEY is the constant reminder of our Baptism by which which we became disciples of Jesus.
That is to say, that every time we encounter the locked doors of resistance such as injustice, lack of compassion, anger and hostility, the “key” of our Baptismal responsibilities, such as justice and compassion, would easily open those doors. Indeed, we could share with Peter the disciple’s version of “the keys of the kingdom.”