Isaiah tells the story of the master of a palace in the Middle East. Shebna is being thrown out for he has failed in his office. His replacement, Eliakim, is given authority and the key to the House of David. It will be Eliakim’s duty to open or shut the palace to whomever he considers worthy of entrance. This position was the result of God’s summons, not human initiative. This position of honor was given by the Lord.
In our American history, we have a process of impeachment. When employed, a president can be removed from office for failing to uphold the Constitution or failing in some other way the obligations of the presidency. What this signifies is the importance of authority and the weightiness of the office. When the common good is not served, when private interests reign, the changing of the guard becomes necessary.
When Peter responded to Jesus’ question about his identity, the Lord conferred upon Peter the keys of the kingdom. Jesus himself was preparing for his ultimate sacrifice, death on the cross. Someone would be needed to provide leadership in the faith. Although not without his weaknesses, Peter was open to God’s revelation and was committed to the mission of the Lord.
On April 19, 2006, Cardinal Joseph Alois Ratzinger was elected pope. He succeeded John Paul II, who guided the universal church for 30 years. Although Pope Benedict XVI was 78 years old at the time of his election, he willingly embraced the duties of the chief shepherd of the church. Unlike the Shebna/Eliakim change resulting from mismanagement, the John Paul II/Benedict XVI transition of authority was executed out of necessity and in accord with divine providence.
St. Paul was keenly aware of the nature of authority and when change was necessary or not. But Paul was also aware of our human limitation in knowing the nature of God’s way. The depth of God’s wisdom and the inscrutability of God’s ways should give us caution in our involvement in the change of authority. The keys of the kingdom are a sacred trust and must be used with great discernment and discretion.
Questions for reflection
1. How do you deal with change? How do you deal with authority?
2. What do you have keys over? A child? A business? A student?
3. How have duties and responsibilities changed over the years?
Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.