During this post-councilor period, some deconstructing has been taking place in the authority arrangements within the church. Known over the centuries as an authoritarian institution, with authority vested in popes and bishops, the church has been evolving along more egalitarian lines. This may be a harbinger of closer bonding with the Orthodox churches
This is apparent in today’s gospel reading, often interpreted as the origins of the Petrine principle in the church, as Peter received from Jesus the "power of the keys to the kingdom of heaven" so that what Peter decides within the church is echoed within the kingdom of heaven.
But there’s a more egalitarian element in today’s account than usually meets the eye. In noting Jesus’ words: "…you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church…" we should do so while also acknowledging that just prior to this, Peter had said to Jesus: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God". There is a kind of quid pro quo here, each bestowing on the other a significant title: a mutuality is at work here.
In addition, we hear Jesus proceeding to say:"…and upon this rock I will build my church…." We frequently interpret this in strength terms against which nothing can prevail, and yet further reflection hints at the interlocking arrangement prevailing in a structure resting upon a foundational stone. While the building will sag without the cornerstone in place, the cornerstone will serve little purpose without the edifice rising above and upon it: another instance of mutuality in place here, in this instance between Peter and the church at large.
And finally, a bilateral relationship is apparent in the interaction between heaven and earth, as Jesus clearly states that what Peter does in the church here on earth (binding, loosing) will have its counterpart in the kingdom of heaven: an exchange process in evidence once more.
This evocative interchange between Jesus and Peter updates and "improves" the effort at restructuring the authority arrangement described by Isaiah in the removal of Shebna from his authoritarian position as master of the palace, and replacing him with Eliakim: a peremptory demotion-promotion intervention, softened somewhat by the admonition to Eliakim to be "…a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah."
Today we can trace the origins of subsidiarity currently present within the ranks of the church, as in the Synods of Bishops, and we recognize the entire People of God as the voice of the faithful whose reception of the teaching authority of the church is needed for its efficacy, and whose access to a series of rights and privileges is now recognized in Canon Law (nn. 212, 213, 224-231).
In probing today’s word of God, we can move past first impressions and appreciate a wealth of meaning that has evolved with the passage of time, corroborating Paul’s exclamation today: "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!"
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.