Appointment and dis-appointment
Having experienced sudden dis-appointment (spelling mine) from a position of authority only to find myself being appointed to the position not too long after, I recall my marvel at how the events unfolded and how I processed it with thoughts that mirrored Paul’s awesome exclamation at the beginning of today’s Second Reading, How rich are the depths of God – how deep his wisdom and knowledge – and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods! (Rom 11:33).
What other explanation could there be for a manmade event being turned on its head to the disappointment of its architects who could not help but make the appointment, all things being considered? When this memory arose, it caused me to think of the well-known aphorism from Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes – “Man appoints, and God disappoints” – the theme informing this reflection for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time.
The idea that God dis-appoints is emphasised in today’s First Reading from Isaiah 22:19–23 which, in my view, contains an implicit message about seeing leadership responsibilities through spiritual eyes rather than through strictly human ways of seeing.
In that light, it seems that the opening declaration in the First Reading is meant to remind us that the exercise of power and authority in the world is really an extension of the power and authority that God wields over the entire universe! In the words of Paul from today’s Second Reading, All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him. To him be glory for ever! Amen” (Rom 11:36).
Think of the situations we witness in this country, when persons in positions of power and authority seem to become playthings in the hands of the political directorate: Thus says the Lord of hosts to Shebna, the master of the palace: I dismiss you from your office, I remove you from your post, and the same day I call on my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah.
Such actions often evoke confusion and trauma which are dealt with from a mainly secular perspective, if newspaper headlines are any indication of who/what is being perceived as the source of the dismissal and dis-appointment.
To appreciate the sternness of the Lord’s actions within the context of today’s theme, one must refer to Isaiah 22: 1–18 which highlights the reason underpinning the removal of Shebna as master of the palace in the opening lines of today’s passage: it was the fact that the people of Jerusalem forgot who created their city and kept it safe; in other words, they became oblivious to the real power behind the lifting of Sennacherib’s siege and responded with celebration as though the power was theirs: In the middle you made a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the old pool. But you had no thought for the Maker, no eyes for him who shaped everything long ago. The Lord Yahweh Sabaoth called you that day to weep and mourn, to shave your heads, to put on sackcloth; instead, there is joy and amusement, killing of oxen, slaughtering of sheep, eating of meat, drinking of wine, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may be dead.” (Is 22: 11–13)
In that regard, a pertinent description of the situation is provided in the following commentary as appears on www.usccb.org/bible/Isaiah/22: “Assyrian documents and 2 Kgs 18:13–16 report that Sennacherib … devastated Judah (the destruction of 46 cities is mentioned in Assyrian records); Hezekiah had to surrender and paid Sennacherib a heavy indemnity, taken from the Temple treasury and adornments. The inhabitants of Jerusalem apparently took the lifting of the siege as occasion for great rejoicing, a response that Isaiah condemns. They should be mourning the dead and learning that their confidence in allies rather than in the Lord leads to disaster.”
Consequently, it is not surprising that the words of Isaiah 22: 21–22 in today’s First Reading literally strip Shebna of all the visible trappings of leadership as if to underscore that leadership is empty and superficial when its Divine underpinnings are ignored: I invest him with your robe, gird him with your sash, entrust him with your authority; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the House of Judah.
Today’s readings therefore encourage a series of reflection not only on why leadership and responsibility should be exercised from knowledge of its divine underpinnings, but also what are we learning from the events of appointment and dis-appointment that are occurring around us? In whom do we place our confidence when we experience appointments and dis-appointments? Is there a place for God in how we exercise leadership and/or respond to authority? Who is God to you as, for example, employer or employee, parent or child, teacher or student?
That latter question is central to the Gospel for today in which evidence of Jesus’ humanity is provided with his being curious about how he was being regarded: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Mt 16:13) and “But you,” he said, “who do you say I am?” (Mt 16:15).
More significantly for the theme, however, is Jesus’ renaming of Simon Peter as “Peter” and appointing him as the “rock” on which he would “build [His] Church” (Mt 16:18) consequent upon Simon Peter’s identification of Jesus’ correct identity – “You are the Christ … the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16).
Taking such identification as a metaphor of seeing through spiritual eyes – “Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven” (Mt 16:17) – a figurative parallel becomes evident between the last part of the Gospel, Mt 16:19–20 and the last part of the First Reading, namely, Isaiah 22:22–23, which reads as follows: I place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; should he open, no one shall close, should he close, no one shall open. I drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will become a throne of glory for his father’s house.
Similarly, in appointing and anointing Peter as the foundation for leadership of the Church on earth, Jesus gave him “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” and set the mandate for his leadership with the words: “whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven” (Mt 16: 19).
The Gospel reflections for August were by Rose-Ann Walker, a parishioner of the Santa Rosa Cluster and a Lay Dominican.