KEYS OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
Mt 16: 13 – 20
As you approach the high altar in St Peter’s you will notice to your right and small statue of St Peter. Hanging from his belt there are two keys. There is no doubt that the artist took his inspiration for this image from scripture; “19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 16: 19; 18: 18)
However it is not certain what symbolic meaning for keys he had in mind. We will have to diligently search the Scriptures if we are to come to an authentic understanding of “Keys of the Kingdom”.
In the recent document from the Synod on the Word, ‘Verbum Domini’, Pope Benedict defines the Church as, “a community that hears and proclaims the Word of God.” (51) We are being encouraged to go frequently to the Scripture and to “understand deeply the Word of God.” (72b)
I urge you to go and read the full text Mt 16: 13 – 20. I will quote you the parts of this text that we are going to concentrate on.
13When Jesus went to the region of Caesarea Philippi….
18And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,
We have already heard one way Pope Benedict defines church. Here we have another description. When asked to draw a picture of what this text suggests, most people draw a church perched on top of an enormous, immovable rock. This does not take into account that the place where this incident takes place is, Caesarea Philippi. At the time when Jesus said these words there was a pagan shrine, nearby. (Now called Banjas) There is a very high cliff face there and at the foot of the cliff a powerful spring pours out millions of litres of water. This is one of the sources of the Jordan River. Clearly Matthew has this rock in mind as he writes. He is telling us that from this rock (church) will flow living water. The rock will be the source of life.
“19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 16: 19)
We are all well aware that Matthew, as a pious Jew, would never have written the name of God. This is why every time you see “heaven” in Matthew, understand that he means God. We have also learned that this kingdom must become a reality here and now on this earth. When we pray in the Our Father, ‘your kingdom come’ we are praying that this world will be the way it would be if God had his way. At the end of his gospel Matthew gives us a beautiful picture of God’s kingdom. In the parable of the last judgment he describes it five times to make sure we do not miss the point. Here is the kingdom of heaven.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” (Mt 25: 34 – 36)
It is up to us to establish this kingdom of heaven.
Surely this (25: 34-36) is another key to the kingdom!!!
We will now look at the overall arrangement of Matthew’s text.
“19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Immediately after promising the keys he writes, “19Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This must surely be another key. But what does it mean?
These same words appear in Mt 18: 18 and this is where we will find there meaning. In Chapter 18 you will find the parable of the lost sheep. Then Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive “if my brother sins against me.” To his astonishment he is told “Seventy-seven times.” There is no limit to forgiveness on God’s part or ours. Have you realized that here we have another Key to the establishing the kingdom of God?
Listen to the words of the Our Father and the following verse echoing in your heart,
• “and forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors; (6: 12)
• “If you forgive others their wrongs, your Father in heaven will also forgive yours.
• If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive you either. ( 6: 14)
Listen to these words like a tolling bell; FORGIVE, FORGIVENESS, FORGIVE.
Everyone of us opens the kingdom of heaven to ourselves and to others as we forgive and continue forgiving.