Having focused our attention on Blessed Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is the King, the New Solomon, and having dismissed the Protestant attack that Peter is simply an insignificant stone, and not the foundation of the Church, we now have the tools to consider the rest of the passage in its proper context. “Thou art Christ, . . . thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys to the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon the earth, it shall be bound also in heaven” (Matt 16:16-19).
Peter’s proclamation that Jesus is the Christ evokes Our Lord’s response that Peter is the Rock upon which Jesus, the New Solomon, will build the house of God, the Church. “The rock” in ancient Israel was the “rock of Moriah” upon which Solomon built the house of God (the Temple) and upon which the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine, stands today. Among the Jews, there was a tradition that named this rock as the capstone of the gates of hell, and as long as this rock was in place, hell could not prevail on earth. Having declared that Peter is the new rock, our Lord concludes his proclamation with the words, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” confirming our understanding that Peter is indeed the foundation-stone of the Church.
Following this proclamation, our Lord grants to Peter “the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” As with every royal house, certain customs and offices are attached to the ruling king. In ancient Israel, the King’s “right-hand man,” similar to our Vice-President, was given the Hebrew title, al-bayit. It was this man’s job to be the keeper of the kingdom, and to run the royal house while the King was engrossed in other affairs. In this office, the person was said to be “over the house” of the King (cf. Num 12:7; 1 Kgs 18:3; 2 Kgs 15:5). A similar position was found in the ancient Egyptian court and was held by Joseph (son of Jacob) when he assisted Pharaoh during the great famine that brought Israel’s family to Egypt (cf. Gen. 41:37-45). To Joseph, ‘al-bayit of the royal house of Egypt,’ Pharaoh proclaimed, “You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” In order to show the authority which this man held within the kingdom, the King of Israel gave to his “al-bayit” the “keys to the kingdom” which were symbolically placed upon his shoulder as a sign of his authority. As we read in the book of Isaiah regarding the al-bayit of the royal house of Israel, “who is over the household . . . He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut and none shall open. And I will fasten him like a peg in a sure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house. And they will hang on him the whole weight of his father’s house” (Isaiah 22:15, 21-24). It is in view of this royal office that we hear Our Lord, the newly proclaimed King of Israel, declare that Peter will be his al-bayit, protecting the house of God from all danger. Upon Peter’s shoulder then, the New Solomon places the keys to the kingdom, and declares that whatever Peter “binds on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matt 16:19), whatever “he shall open…none shall shut”(Is 22:22).
What is the most important thing to remember about this passage in the Gospel of Matthew? As with our past topics, the Catholic and Biblical theology of participation in divine life is essential. Let us always remember that the Word was made flesh in order to give us the greatest thing anyone can ever give to another: his own life. Each one of us who has been baptized into Christ has been given this gift of participation in Christ. As Saint Paul explains, ‘One is an eye, one is a foot, another is a hand’ all members of the One Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-31). It is participation in this divine life that makes a priest able to hear confessions, holy men able to perform miracles, and Blessed Peter to be the foundation stone of the Church.
There is one Wise Builder, and one Rock upon which he builds his house. There is one Church built by Jesus Christ, and one man upon whom He has placed the keys of the kingdom. If a man builds upon any other foundation, he is like the “foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it” (Matt 7:26-27).
Today there are over 30,000 Protestant denominations; there is only one Church built by Jesus Christ.
Viva il Papa! Viva il Papa! Viva il Papa!