New Insights on the Gospels

March for Life 2012

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing - Edmund Burke

Monday, August 30, 2010

The choice and mission of Peter - Pope John Paul II

The choice and mission of Peter

Jesus stated: 'On this rock I shall build my Church and the gates of hell will never prevail against her' (Matthew 16:18). The words attest Jesus' wish to build his Church with essential reference to the specific mission and power which he in his lifetime would confer on Simon.

Jesus described Simon Peter as the foundation stone on which the church was going to be built. The relationship between Christ and Peter is thus reflected in the relationship between Peter and the Church. The former relationship charges the latter with importance and discloses its theological and spiritual significance which, objectively and ecclesially, is the basis of that jurisdiction.

Matthew is the only evangelist to record these words for us, but in this connection we should remember that Matthew is also the only one to have assembled material of particular interest about Peter (Matthew 14:28-31), perhaps with those communities in mind for whom he was writing his Gospel and on whom he was keen to impress the new concept of 'the assembly summoned' in the name of Christ, present in Peter.

On the other hand, 'Peter', the new name which Jesus gives to Simon is confirmed by the other evangelists without any disagreement over the name's significance as explained by Matthew. Nor, for that matter, can one see what other meaning it could have.We should also make clear that the 'Rock' of which Jesus is speaking is actually the person, Peter. Jesus says to him: 'Thou art Kephas.' The context in which this is said allows us an even firmer grasp of the sense of that 'Thou' person. After Simon has said who Jesus is Jesus says who Simon is, in his plan for building the Church. True, Simon gets called "Rock" after making his profession of faith, and this implies a relationship between his faith and the role of rock conferred on him. But the quality of rock is attributed to Simon's person, not to one of his actions, even though it was very noble and pleasing to Jesus. The word 'rock' suggests something permanent and sound hence it is applied to the person, rather than to an action of his, since by its nature an action would be transitory. Jesus' subsequent words confirm this, when he says that the gates of hell - that is, the powers of death - will never prevail'against her'. The expression could refer to the Church or to the rock.

Be that as it may, according to the logic of Christ's words, the Church founded on the rock can never be destroyed. The permanence of the Church is bound up with the rock. The relationship between Peter and the Church in itself duplicates the bond between the Church and Christ. For Jesus says 'my Church'. Which means that the Church will always be Christ's Church, the Church belonging to Christ. She doesn't become Peter's Church. But, as Christ's Church, she is built on Peter, who is Kephas, in the name of and by the authority of Christ.

To Peter, Jesus says: 'Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven' (Matthew 16:19). This is another metaphor used by Jesus to show that he wishes to invest Simon Peter with a complete and universal power guaranteed and ratified by heavenly approval. This is not only the power to enunciate points of doctrine or general directives to be acted upon; according to Jesus, it is the power 'to loose and to bind' - that is, to take all measures required for the life and development of the Church. The conjunction of the opposites 'to bind' and 'to loose' serves to show how total this power is.

We must, however, add at once that the purpose of this power is to give access to the Kingdom, not to close it: 'to open', to make it possible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and not to put obstacles in the way, which would be the same as I closing' it. Such is the purpose of the Petrine ministry, rooted in the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, who came to save and to be the Door and Shepherd of all within the communion of the one sheepfold.'

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