Aug. 27: 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 16, 2023

The Petrine ministry

Is 22:19-23; Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8; Rom 11:33-36; Mt 16:13-20

A very significant result of the reinvigorated ecumenical movement following the Second Vatican Council was the decision by the Consultation on Church Union, an organization of Protestant churches in the United States, to develop a common lectionary for use during Sunday worship. Protestant churches that use a lectionary, including the Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Methodist churches, now read he same biblical texts on any given Sunday.

What is most remarkable about this decision is that the Common Lectionary was based on the Roman Catholic lectionary that has been in use since 1969. The effect of that decision was that many Protestant Christians hear the same lessons from the Scriptures during Sunday worship as Catholics do. The Gospel lesson about Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah will be proclaimed in Catholic and many Protestant churches throughout the country on this Sunday.

The Common Lectionary is a hopeful sign that all Christian churches are longing for and working for the day when Christians can be one in their witness to Christ. We all celebrate baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We read the same Scriptures. We collaborate in the preparation of women and men for ministry in our respective churches. Together we shed the light of the Gospel on the day’s great moral issues, such as racism, poverty, and war. But there remain several obstacles to Christian unity. One of these emerges from today’s Gospel lesson, in which Jesus says to Peter: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.” We Christians have different interpretations of this text.

Most Protestant Christians see the ministry of Peter as a once-and-for-all thing. Peter, at the Lord’s command, provided the type of leadership that was so crucial when the church began, but with the church’s growth, with the development of its theology and liturgy, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, the church attained a type of maturity that made the ministry of Peter no longer necessary.

Churches that have bishops, such as the Orthodox and the Anglican churches, believe that the binding and loosing is shared by all the bishops acting as a college. While the bishop of Rome has a unique status in the college of bishops, he is the first among equals.

The Catholic church, however, sees Jesus’ words in response to Peter’s confession as establishing the Petrine ministry as a constitutive feature of the church. That ministry is exercised in the church today in the person of the bishop of Rome. As the successor of Peter, the pope continues to exercise the Petrine ministry.

Still, the way that ministry is exercised has changed dramatically in our lifetime. Gone are the symbols of monarchy. The pope does not live in a palace but in a Vatican guest house. Gone are the elaborate papal rituals. The Mass celebrated by the pope is no different than that celebrated by any parish priest. Gone is the special papal dress. The pope dresses in way that is similar to any other bishop. All this is done to underscore the pastoral dimension of the Petrine ministry. The pope is — first and foremost — a pastor, a pastor who reaches out to his people, who comforts them, encourages them, strengthens their faith. Recent popes have traveled around the world to be present to the people of God as a genuine pastor.

What did Jesus want from the disciples when he asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked that question not because he was seeking their affirmation or adulation. Jesus wanted their commitment. When Peter answered for himself and the other disciples, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” he was doing more than saying what he thought about Jesus. Calling Jesus the Messiah and the Son of God involved a commitment to follow Jesus without reservation. What Jesus wanted from Peter and the disciples Jesus wants from us as well. The church prays for the pope during every Eucharist so that he can help strengthen our commitment to Christ.


  • scripture