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Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 27, 2023

Today’s Invitation

Today, we invite you to explore the preferential option for the poor with the help of theologian Orlando Espín, and the meaning of Peter as “the rock”; engage Catholic Social Teaching through the origins of liberation theology’s emergence; and embody the preferential option for the poor with the help of oral historian Studs Terkel and Chicano Park in San Diego.

Commentary by Edward Dunar

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1

Isaiah 22:15, 19-23

Thus says YHWH:
“Go! Go to this official named Shebna,
the palace governor, and say
‘I will remove you from your office
and pull you down from your station.
The day you are demoted, I will summon my faithful one
Eliakim, begot of Hilkiah.
I will clothe Eliakim with your robe,
and gird him with your sash,
and entrust him with your authority.
He will care for the inhabitants of Jerusalem,
and for the house of Judah.
I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder;
when he opens, no one will shut,
when he shuts, no one will open.
I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot,
to be a place of honor for his family.’ ”

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 138

Response: Adonai, Your love is constant forever. / Complete the work that You have begun.

I thank You, Adonai with all my heart; / I sing praise to You before the gods.
I bow down in front of Your Holy Temple / and praise Your name.
R: Adonai, Your love is constant forever. / Complete the work that You have begun.

I praise Your Name / because of Your constant love and faithfulness.
You answered me when I called to You; / with Your strength You strengthened me.
R: Adonai, Your love is constant forever. / Complete the work that You have begun.

Even though You are so high above, / You care for the lowly,
And the proud cannot hide from You.
Adonai, Your love is constant forever. / Complete the work that You have begun.
R: Adonai, Your love is constant forever. / Complete the work that You have begun.

Reading 2

Romans 11:33-36

Oh, how deep are the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge,
how inscrutable the judgments, how unsearchable the ways of God!
For, “Who has known the mind of God or been God’s counselor?
Who has given God anything to deserve something in return?”
For all things are from God and through God and for God.
To God be glory forever! Amen.


Matthew 16:13-20

When Jesus came to the neighborhood of Caesarea Philippi,
he asked the disciples this question:
“What do people say about who the Chosen One is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptizer, others say Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“And you,” he said, “who do you say that I am?”
“You are the Messiah,” Simon Peter answered,
“the Firstborn of the Living God!”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon begot of Jonah!
No mere mortal has revealed this to you, but my Abba God in heaven.
I also tell you this: Your name now is ‘Rock,’
and on bedrock like this I will build my community,
and the jaws of death will not prevail against it.
“Here—I’ll give you the keys to the reign of heaven:
whatever you declare bound on earth will be bound in heaven,
and whatever you declare loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Then Jesus strictly ordered the disciples not
to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved. 

The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.



Reconsidering Authority

Today’s scripture readings invite us to reconsider the nature of authority. Latino theologian Orlando Espín argues for an understanding of the gospel that recognizes the authority of the people. He suggests that popular religious practices are profound expressions of the senses fidelium, the sense of the faith held by all baptized people. Therefore, a fuller understanding of truth and authority depends on seeing the lived experience of the people as reflective of their life in Christ. 

Espín criticizes a tendency by theologians and church officials to consider popular religious traditions as deviations from tradition or orthodoxy. Instead, he interprets popular devotion as interactive with the life of faith in the context of tradition. Such a reading allows for an accounting of the witness and role of lay people that acknowledges varied lived experiences rather than an idealized vision of lay roles that is concerned chiefly with formal church organization and discipline. He notes in his book Faith of the People: “It seems to me that theologians have to start taking the real laity of real Catholicism seriously (and not the imagined laity of so many ecclesiologies), otherwise the very understandings of ‘Church,’ or Tradition, of infallibility, and of revelation might be compromised and vitiated” (4).

For Espín, it is crucial to remember that God chooses to reveal divine love through the lives of the vanquished. Indeed, the faith of the vanquished can be read as a cultural analogy of the crucified Jesus. “The medium of revelation,” the offer of divine love of which we speak when we preach the gospel, “is the insignificant, failed, and vanquished life of a first-century Palestinian Jew, who was easily disposed of by the authorities of his day” (27). The experiences, voices, and lived faith of people on the margins today are revelatory in that they dwell on the grounds on which God reaches out to humanity. 

Today’s readings reveal that true authority and leadership come from loving encounters with God, not through coercion or domination. The passage from Isaiah is preceded by a rebuke of Shebna, the royal steward who was swayed by pride to elevate himself, “hewing a tomb on high, carving a resting place in the rock” (Isaiah 22:16). He cared more about his position and privilege than about serving the common good.

The passage from Matthew describes the elevation of Peter to leadership after his acknowledgement of Jesus as Christ. This scene has been used throughout history as a justification of the papacy with interpretations that have focused on the pope’s possession of authority as keys to bind and loosen. There is danger in this line of interpretation toward a clericalism that understands posts of authority rigidly. In the gospel, leadership is based on a recognition of God’s truth and call to justice. A close reading of the passage shows that Peter’s authority comes from a recognition of Jesus rather than human notions of power or authority. When we consider who and what to take as authoritative, we would do well to follow Espín’s exhortation to listen to marginalized people, among whom God chose to become present in the person of Jesus.

Theologian Biography: Orlando Espín served as a Professor of Theology and Religious Studies for three decades at the University of San Diego, where he also directed the Center for the Study of Latino/a Catholicism. He is regarded as one of the founders of U.S. Latinx Catholic theology. His work, which spans twelve books and over two hundred fifty articles, provides a theoretical framework for attentiveness to popular devotion, with special attention to intercultural experience and the nature of tradition. Today’s reflection draws in particular from The Faith of the People: Theological Reflections on Popular Catholicism (Orbis, 1997).

Commentary by Edward Dunar

Edward Dunar is the Director of the Meister Eckhart Center and Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, CT. He teaches, researches, and writes about urbanism, ecclesiology, and Catholic Social Thought.

Engage Catholic Social Teaching

The awareness of God holding a special concern for the poor goes back to the Jewish origins of our tradition. The Prophet Isaiah proclaims, “The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor shall exult in the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 29:19). Jesus walks within the prophetic and wisdom traditions of Judaism as an advocate for the just treatment of the poor and a respect for their privileged relationship with God. Indeed, he preaches, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). He even goes so far as to pose wealth as a threat to clear vision and salvation when he teaches, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). 

In the 20th century, theologians explored this theme in their engagement with the realities of poverty in the modern world. In 1968, the Superior General of the Jesuits Pedro Arrupe coined the term “preferential option for the poor” to stress the radicality of the church’s commitment to the marginalized. The term was embraced by the Catholic bishops of Latin America, developed further by liberation theologians such as Gustavo Gutiérrez, and eventually incorporated into formal Catholic Social Teaching by Pope John Paul II, who wrote in Sollicitudo rei socialis: “This is an option, or a special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness. It affects the life of each Christian inasmuch as they seek to imitate the life of Christ, but it applies equally to our social responsibilities and hence to our manner of living, and to the logical decisions to be made concerning the ownership and use of goods” (42).

An implication of the preferential option for the poor is that people on the margins hold authoritative experiences about the nature of sin and grace in the world. Jesuit theologian, university administrator, and martyr Ignacio Ellacuría understands the poor as the crucified people for whom Jesus’s resurrection holds concrete liberative meaning. Since the poor bear the weight of history’s unjust structures, their experiences indict and discredit the lies that underpin schemes of domination. The liberation of all is thus tied up in the liberation of the poor, and it is essential to listen to their perspectives of oppression to have a grounded sense of God’s work in the world.


A Contemplative Exercise

Today’s readings suggest that authority comes from a familiarity with God’s revelation and work in the world. Oftentimes, it is marginalized people who hear this revelation and see this work most clearly. We need to cultivate a practice of deep listening to learn from their insights even when they do not match our own ideas, commitments, or assumptions.


Find and listen to a brief (1-3 minute) oral history recording of somebody whose life experiences are different from your own. It is possible that local recordings are available on the website of your city or town’s library or historical society. Here are some other oral history collections that you might consider exploring:

Listen to the chosen recording three times:

  • The first time, get a sense of the person, their personality, and their story.
  • The second time, imagine the situations and stories described.
  • The third time, listen for a word or phrase that catches your attention.

Reflect on the word or phrase. Talk with God about why you are drawn to it. Consider what insights you might be able to take away from this witness.

A Witness

Studs Turkel

Respecting the authority of the experiences of marginalized people requires a profound practice of listening. Studs Turkel, a secular Jewish journalist, was an artisan of listening and amplifying the experience of people from all walks of life. Born in New York City in 1912, he mostly grew up in Chicago where his parents ran a boarding house. After years of work as a radio actor, disc jockey, and journalist, he became an acclaimed documenter of oral history, publishing his first best-selling book at 55. He subsequently released volumes of interviews that sought to forefront the variety and struggle of American life. His works document experiences ranging from war, labor struggle, racial justice, and mortality. 

Turkel won a variety of prestigious awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1985. Perhaps more telling is the appreciation he received from marginalized communities because of his compassionate style of listening and faithful documentation. For example, in 2001, the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame recognized him as a Friend of the Community because of his advocacy on behalf of LGBT rights going back to the 1940s and his inclusion of LGBT voices in his books. 

You can learn more about Turkel, his life, and his books at

A Community

Chicano Park

Chicano Park is an outdoor community gathering space featuring murals, skate ramps, and a playground beneath the interchange between Interstate 5 and the San Diego-Coronado Bridge in San Diego. 

The construction of the expressway and bridge in the 1960s divided Barrio Logan, a predominantly Mexican American neighborhood, from the broader Logan Heights. During the interstate construction, city officials promised to set aside land for a park in Barrio Logan. However, in 1970, activists learned that the state planned to build a highway patrol station beneath the interchange even while the promise of a park remained unfulfilled. This sparked a 12-day occupation of the area by demonstrators demanding that the city follow through on its promises. They eventually succeeded in bringing about the park’s founding and the establishment of a committee to direct the painting and preservation of murals, which continues today. 

The park’s murals represent an expression of the community’s history and ongoing life with reference to the Catholic and Indigenous spiritual symbols of the Chicano community. They connect encounters of God and ultimate reality with the concrete concerns of the neighborhood. Each mural reflects a process of community dialogue partnership, oftentimes guided and implemented by members of the community whose children play and grow up around the park. The community is both defined by its suffering and struggle against the schemes of dominance represented by the expressway overheard and independent from it, rooted in the land whose stories the concrete of the expressway cannot wipe out.  

You can learn more about the park, its murals, and its community here:


Chicano Park’s Leyes-La Familia and Mujer Cósmica

Look up two of the murals from Chicano Park, which show different ways of understanding authority and divinity from the community’s experience. Both subtly play upon the form of the expressway beam as a representation of the cross, include references to the community’s struggles for justice, and reflect the mixed heritage of the community.