Did you know you are a priest? It is part of Catholic teaching that because of your baptism you share in a universal priesthood. Although having a different implication of such a priesthood, the German protestant Martin Luther described it this way: “The fact that we are all priests… means that each of us Christians may go before God and intercede for the other, If I notice that you have no faith or a weak faith, I can ask God to give you a strong faith.” Cardinal George, speaking about service, says a similar thing when he wrote: “Every Christian is someone else’s priest, and we are all priests to one another.” It seems to me that these notions of service as part of the universal priesthood very well fit the very readings on Holy Thursday, when we celebrate the sacramental priesthood, as Jesus takes off his cloak, puts on an apron and serves the disciples in the most menial of tasks: washing feet. The sacramental priesthood rests upon the more intrinsic foundation of the universal priesthood in which we all have the call to service because we are impelled by the love of God.
Today’s Gospel is the passage in which Simon answers the question: “And, who do you say that I am?” His reply is ten simple words: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In just a few verses later Jesus changes Simon name to Peter, the rock, the one upon which the church will be built. The one who will serve all the others. The one whose papal successors will be called the “Servant of the Servants of God.” Everyone is someone’s servant. Everyone is someone’s priest…. And just maybe, in a small and partial way connected to service, everyone is someone’s “pope.” The one who exercises the power of binding and loosing. “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.”
Allow me some poetic license here. Each one of us here is somebody’s “pope” because in every one of our hands we hold keys to the kingdom of Heaven. In each of our lives, we bind and loose people. It is our Christ-given mission and like Peter we are sent out into families, friendships, business, recreation, and into the everyday with a role that we each are called to carry out – to serve others in the name of the Christ, the Son of the living God. The manner, the tone, the compassion – and so much more – are the means by which we will loose and bind. On our worst days we “loose” people – people that are too troublesome, take too much of our energy, people we just want to lose, to send away, to be done with them. On our worst days we bind people with unneeded expectations, with shame, guilt, and burdens that weigh people down. It is as though we turned the keys the wrong way and the gates to the kingdom are effectively closed. In those moments when we have so failed in our mission, when we can’t believe we are charged with the keys to the kingdom – we know what it is to be Peter.
“…you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” Let’s be honest, Peter seems a bit shaky to be anyone’s rock. Peter stumbled, fell, and he denied. Peter did not always “get it;” he struggled to understand. And even when he did understand, he hesitated— unsure whether and how to bind or loose. Sometime, he acted without thinking it through and suddenly he lops off someone’s ear. His service was imperfect, flawed, and sometimes misdirected. St. Paul had to correct him and get him turned around on binding and loosing around the table where the community gathered.. Peter was an imperfect servant to the servants of God. But even in his flaws he remained someone’s priest, someone’s servant, and still has the keys in his hand.
It is lot like you and certainly like me. This wasn’t a good week to be me. It was a serious error in judgment that led me to sign the movie production lease at the north campus. For that I am sorry and ask your forgiveness – and your prayers. It is one of those moments when in a flash you have already lopped off the ear. The damage is done. And in the regret, the sorrow, and remorse, you look down in your hands – and as unworthy as we might be – the keys are still in our hands. The mission remains the same: serving, binding, and loosing.
On our worst days we bind and loose in ways that lock the gates of the Kingdom. But we are called to the good days when, in the grace of God, we answer rightly. At the end of the gospel, after Peter had denied Jesus three times, he again meets Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias. Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” and [Peter] said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep” In other words, you still have the keys, get back to work and the mission. But remember the lessons of binding and loosing that just happened for you.
Love is a powerful agent. For it is in love the Jesus binds Peter closer to the Lord, closer to the church, and closer to those he was to feed. It is in love that Jesus loosens the error, the regret, the sin, and reconciles him – freeing him to serve, to feed the sheep. It is the best of days when the keys are well used to open the gates of the kingdom that draw others closer to the love of God.
We are all someone’s servant. We are all someone’s priest…. And just maybe, in a small and partial way, we are all someone’s “pope,” someone’s rock: “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.”
As the keys have been turned for us and gates opened, may we turn our keys rightly and in love. May we open the gates of the Kingdom for those we are called to serve. Amen.