Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray. READINGS: Isaiah 22:19-23, Romans 11:33-36, Matthew 16:13-20.
The Liturgical Teaching on the Two Types of People
Today’s Readings for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time combine to motivate us into the alacrity of knowing who our master is and doing his will. This liturgical motivation is accomplished by juxtaposing two types of people: those who do not know God and, therefore, serve themselves versus those who do know God and, therefore, serve Him.
The First Reading today from Isaiah 22:19-23 and the Gospel Reading from Matthew 16:13-20 are verses we find most frequently being leveraged by Catholic Apologists to defend the dogmas of Apostolic Succession and the Primacy of Peter. While we affirm that the three oracles of the Fall of Babylon and All Human Glories found in chapters 21, 22, and 23 of Isaiah must be acknowledged in how they were fulfilled in their historical context, we also read them as having future fulfillment. In particular, Isaiah 22:22 reading, “I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; what he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open,” looks to be prophetic in light of Matthew 16:19 where Christ Jesus told the newly renamed Cephas, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Moreover, just as we acknowledge Isaiah 7:8 as being prophetic in the foretelling of the virgin who would bear a son whose name would be Emanuel was fulfilled in its immediate historical context, we also read it as a prophecy about the Blessed Mother Mary and her son Jesus. Similarly, just as the name Emmanuel, meaning, ‘God is with us,’ relates to the meaning of the name of Jesus, ‘God saves,’ the meaning of the name Eliakim, ‘God has established,’ relates to the meaning of what Jesus did by establishing His Church on Cephas.
According to Isaiah 22:15-25, Shebna was the royal steward, or the chief minister of state, with much power and influence. However, he was also arrogant and proud, and he built himself a lavish tomb in a high place. The prophet Isaiah rebuked him for his vanity and announced that God would punish him by throwing him out of his office and into exile. He also said that God would replace him with Eliakim, another servant of the king, who would be faithful and humble. Some non-biblical Jewish texts also mention Shebna, but they give different accounts of his fate. According to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 26a), Shebna repented after Isaiah’s prophecy and became Hezekiah’s scribe or secretary. He may have been the same “Shebna the scribe” who appears in 2 Kings 18:18, 26, 37; 19:2; Isaiah 36:3, 11, 22; 37:2 as one of the messengers sent by Hezekiah to negotiate with the Assyrian envoy. According to the Midrash (Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer 10), Shebna did not repent and died during the Assyrians’ siege of Jerusalem. His body was thrown over the wall and landed on a large stone, which split into two and crushed him.
Eliakim was a high-ranking official in the court of King Hezekiah of Judah, who lived in the 8th century B.C. He is mentioned in the book of Isaiah and some non-biblical Jewish texts. According to Isaiah 22:20-25, Eliakim was the son of Hilkiah, and God appointed him to replace Shebna as the royal steward or the chief minister of state. He was given the key to David’s house, symbolizing his authority and responsibility. Isaiah also praised him as a faithful and honorable servant of God and the king, who would be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah. However, Isaiah also warned that Eliakim would face a heavy burden and that his family would cling to him for support. Like Shebna, some non-biblical Jewish texts also mention Eliakim, but they give different accounts of his role and fate. According to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 26a), Eliakim was the same as Joah, the son of Asaph, who was a recorder or a historian for Hezekiah. He may have been the same “Joah the son of Asaph the recorder” who appears in 2 Kings 18:18, 26, 37; 19:2; Isaiah 36:3, 11, 22; 37:2 as one of the messengers sent by Hezekiah to negotiate with the Assyrian envoy. According to the Midrash (Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer 10), Eliakim was killed by Shebna, who was jealous of his position and power. Shebna hired two assassins to murder Eliakim, but they were caught and executed by Hezekiah.
This juxtaposition of Shebna and Eliakim should not lead us into a body of shallow exploration of similes and contrasts of the Martha versus Mary sport. Rather, let the lives of Shebna and Eliakim serve us as the embodiment of the question itself, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” For, there are two people in this world: the humble and those who are about to be humbled. In other words, there are those who know Christ Jesus and those who do not, and there are those who know their master and, as a consequence, are given the authority to serve him within the office given to them, and are there those who do not know their master, and as a consequence are given over to the slavery of self-indulgence.
One of the most beautiful things about the Divine Symphony is that she gives us the answer to the question. The liturgy of the Mass is a type of divinely ordered cheat sheet and, therefore, a demonstration of God’s mercy to us because she presents to us every day – from the rising of the sun until its setting who Christ Jesus is, who the Son of Man is. If you want to know if God is real, come to the Mass; if you want to see Jesus, come to the Mass. Through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Mass presents the most compelling evidence in the universe that God is real and that He loves us and desires with the magnanimous infinite immensity of His being and nature to dwell with us and be with us and us in Him and with Him. This truth is as humbling as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Rome 11:33-36 from our Second Reading today, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” Yet, such an ungraspable and rich truth as this is revealed through the simplicity of the appearance of bread and wine, which is food for the humble and a point of conviction for those who are about to be humbled.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.