That was Peter's question to Jesus in this morning's Gospel, and Jesus' answer is incredibly pertinent to each one of us and those we love, especially at this moment in history. We're going to engage in a little Bible study today. First, Let me take a step back though and give the parable that sparked Peter's question:
"Be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast, so that they may open to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them" (Luke 12:36-37).
It struck me this morning that Jesus didn't give a simple "yes" or "no" to Peter:
And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, 'My master is delayed in coming,' and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the unfaithful (Luke 12:42-45).
Peter would have understood Jesus immediately: while it referred to all, it referred to them, the shepherds, and to Peter in a special way. Why do I say this? It seems to me that Jesus is making a pretty strong allusion to Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham, sold into Egyptian slavery by his eleven brothers. (Just as an aside, Jesus is giving this answer to Peter, the leader among a group of Twelve). Joseph of course rose to prominence in Egypt, being made the Pharoah's vizier, or master of the palace:
So Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discreet and wise as you are; you shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only as regards the throne will I be greater than you." And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Behold, I have set you over all the land of Egypt." Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph's hand. . . Moreover Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt" (Gen.41:39-44).
When famine struck the Middle East, it was Joseph who had stored up Egypt's grain in preparation:
There was famine in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, "Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do." So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth (Gen.41:54-57).
But how does this apply to Peter, and by extension to his successors? Peter too was appointed a vizier, but over Jesus' Kingdom. I've explored this before when comparing Jesus words in Matthew 16:17-19 with those in Isaiah spoken by God in reference to Israel's vizier, master of the palace. But look at Jesus' words to Peter again, and compare them to Pharaoh's to Joseph:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt.16:18-19).
And was this same Simon-Peter to whom Jesus later said:
"Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs. . .Tend my sheep. . .Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17).
So in today's Gospel reading, Jesus had incredibly strong words that we all need to take to heart - but especially his ordained shepherds, and Peter's successors most of all. Our Lord's answer to Peter continued:
And that servant who knew his master's will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more. "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!. . .Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law" (Luke 12: 47-53).
We have to keep this squarely in mind as our nation, and we as individuals, face the culture war. There are so many points at which not just the Gospel but the Natural Law are being attacked in our culture today. We hear of whole groups of Christians picking apart God's Word and rejecting what doesn't fit with this secular morality, only a few decades old. We have to pray for the shepherds, in our country and abroad, to stand up and lead us in the way of Truth - to make sure each and every parish is giving solid instruction, solid reasons and arguments to share with others. Thank God that we have a Pope who is doing that at the top! It might be high time the Church in the U.S.A. lost its tax exempt status. We need our shepherds to be servants who give the people "their portion of food at the proper time" And each of us, in whatever capacity God has given us, need to be servants to our family members and colleagues - making sure they get "their portion of food at the proper time." The time is now; the world is starving for Truth - bold, uncompromising, unassailable Truth.