THE KEYS TO OVERCOMING THE GATE OF THE NETHERWORLD Reflection for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Almost every adult has had the misfortune of misplacing their keys, which is a very frustrating experience, especially when there is an urgent need for them. Consequently, people use devices to track their keys in the event of misplacement.

Generally, a key has two important functions: to unlock or give access and to lock or prevent entrances and exits. Without a key, gaining access to some facilities would be difficult. What gives you true ownership, power, and authority over any facility is the key!
On another level of understanding, a key is beyond that metal object that could fit into a hole, rotate, and open a door. Your word, idea, or action could be key. Even a person can be a key that could open or padlock a doorway.

The First Reading (Isaiah 22:19-23) tells us about the oracle against Shebna, the master of the palace of King Hezekiah. He became prideful, wicked, and deceitful. God decided to pull him down because of the betrayal he would bring to the nation of Judah.

The prophecy tells us that Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, would take the place of Shebna. The passage is very relevant because God promised to place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder such that when he opens, no one shall shut, and when he shuts, no one shall open. This reinforces the power of key in our earlier descriptions.
The Question of Identity!

In the Gospel Reading (Matt. 16:13-20), our Lord Jesus Christ sponsored a field research on his identity. Using the disciples as the respondents, he featured two items in the semi-structured interview at Caesarea Phillipi.

First, he asked them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The designation “the Son of Man” refers to the humanity of Jesus in contrast to his divinity, which goes with the description “the Son of God” and refers to his salvific role as the Christ or Messiah.
Answering the question, the disciples provided popular opinions about Jesus as a prophet like John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, and others in the same rank. The answer here shows that the people understood the human Jesus (the Son of Man) as one of the prophets, which was correct but incomplete.

The second question was directed to the disciples. “But who do you say I am?” Notice here that the question came in another form. It was no longer about “the Son of Man.” Now it is about the “I am.”
The designation “I am” has an Old Testament trail, majorly in the encounter between God and Moses. Recall that when Moses asked God His name should the people inquire to know, he said to tell them. “I AM has sent me to you” (Ex. 3:14).

The Gospel of John gives us seven “I am” statements of Jesus Christ: the Bread of Life (John 6:35), the Light of the World (John 8:12), the Door (John 10:9), the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14), the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25), the Way and the Truth and the Life (John 14:6) and the Vine (John 15:1,5).

So, the second question directed at the disciples was about the identity of Jesus as the “I Am,” not “the Son of Man.” We see this clearly in the response of Simon when he said: “You are Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus clarified that the answer could only come through direct revelation from the Heavenly Father.

Gates of the Netherworld
Afterward, Jesus said to Simon, “You are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 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”.

“What is the netherworld here, and why would it come as a prevailing gate?” Historically, the area where the conversation happened at Caesarea Philippi had shrines of various deities situated in the caves, including the Greek god Pan. The place was known as the Gate of Hades, where many evil activities occurred.

Spiritually, the gates of the netherworld, as used in the narrative, refer to the domain of darkness. The gates are access points to sin which results in eternal damnation. St. Paul would later tell the Colossian (1:13) that God has rescued us from the domain (gates) of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.

Using the Kingdom Keys to Overcome the Netherworld
Our Lord Jesus Christ promised to give us the keys to the Kingdom of God through his word to the Apostle Peter. Notice that the keys have two functions: “to bound and to loose” and “to lock and to open.”
The gates of the underworld are also descriptive of the warfare arsenals of the evil one. There are times when the gate of the underworld comes as freeway access to evil. The Book of Proverbs (14:12) says, “There is a way that seems right to a man. But its end is the way of death.” One would need the kingdom key to lock the freeways in this case.

There are times when the gate of the underworld comes as bondage. In the Gospel of Luke (13:10-13), our Lord Jesus delivered a woman who was under the devil’s bondage for eighteen years and was bent over. In the case of bondage, the key to the kingdom of heaven comes to unlock and bring deliverance to the bound.

Moving Forward: Discovering Your Identity and Using the Keys
How much of yourself do you know? It is very common for us to examine other people while measuring their strengths and weaknesses. But we often forget to question ourselves to understand who we are. Many people face identity crises because they are unable to make sense of who they are.

If you can understand who you are, you will also know who is with you and what you have. Jesus told Simon, you are Peter, which means rock. He went further to give him access to the keys that can bind and undo the structures of the netherworld.

The good news is that we also have access to the keys. Jesus was not kidding when he said in Luke (10:19), I have given you authority to trample upon snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the powers of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you”.

If you are wondering who you are, I can tell you that the scriptures have many descriptions of your identity. “You are wonderfully and fearfully made” (Psalm 139:14) and “the apple of God’s eye (Deut. 32:10). In terms of warfare, you are God’s battle axe and weapon of war (Jer. 51:20), and you will declare a thing, and it shall be established (Job 22:28).

Know your identity and use your keys.
God bless you.
Fr. Bonnie.

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