Friday, January 4, 2013

Jesus Appoints a New Prime Minister!

In yesterday's post I wrote about Jesus' bestowal of the name Peter (Rock) upon the Apostle Simon.  I focused my comments upon the first half of Jesus' statement to Peter in Matthew 16.  Today I want to look at the second half of His statement,  “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” (16:19). 

First, notice how the words “Church” and “kingdom” were interchangeable in Jesus’ mind. Second, we hear of the power of “binding and loosing.” We see Jesus bestow this authority upon the other Apostles two chapters later in Matthew’s Gospel (18:18). But something unique stands out in the way Jesus bestowed this authority upon Peter.  Jesus granted Peter alone “the keys of the kingdom.” That phrase has to be contended with if we are to understand Peter’s function in the Church, and by extension that of the popes.

The Jewish mind, hearing those words in the first century, would have immediately been transported back to the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel. The Lord was using a phrase, an image, from those governments. The Protestant scholars, W.F. Albright and C.S. Mann, wrote “[Isaiah 22] undoubtedly lies behind this saying. The keys are the symbol of authority and Roland DeVaux rightly sees here the same authority as that vested in the vizier, the master of the house, the chamberlain of the royal household in ancient Israel. Eliakim is spoken of as having the same authority in Isaiah.”[1] Albright and Mann contend that Jesus’ wording reflects that of Isaiah 22, where the Lord addressed the man serving as the vizier, or Master of the Palace in the Kingdom of Judah: the Lord would remove him from office and install Eliakim, a man who would exercise authority as the Lord wished:

In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father [pope in Italian] to the house of Judah. And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him like a peg in a sure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house. And they will hang on him the whole weight of his father’s house… (Isaiah 22:21-23; emphasis and information within brackets added).

Fortunate for us, theologian Stanley Jaki has done the legwork in investigating what role the vizier, or Master of the Palace, played in ancient Israel:

By the time of Isaiah the office of the master of the palace was three centuries old and the highest of the royal administration which Solomon organized in full. . . Solomon set up the office in imitation of the office of the Pharaoh’s vizier. . .in Egypt as well as in Judah and Israel the master of the palace was the second in command after the king. . . the master of the palace of the king of Israel headed the list of royal officials (2 King 18:18) and he alone appears with the king (1 King 18:3). The importance of the title is particularly apparent when [Prince] Jotham assumes it in his capacity of regent of the kingdom during the final illness of his father King Azariah (2 Kings 15:5).[2]

Given this Old Testament background we are in a much better position to appreciate Jesus’ words. He, the One Who came to sit upon the throne of David and Solomon’s kingdom, revived the office of the Master of the Palace – appointing Simon-Peter to it. Peter was to be the King’s chief minister, and his authority so far-reaching that he could override the policies of other ministers, such was the symbolism of the keys of the kingdom.  It would be meaningless to speak of the authority of other ministers to bind and loose apart from their unity with Peter. The purpose was not to make Peter some type of dictator in regard to the other Apostles; they were brothers charged with the mission of representing Christ to the world. In Christ’s Kingdom the greatest serves the rest. In the Kingdom here on earth this service would involve speaking the final word when matters are in dispute, thus maintaining the unity of the Body. This service would be especially important when those disputing were fellow shepherds.

Jesus’ declaration that “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,” cannot mean that God was bound to rearrange spiritual and temporal realities to coincide with whatever Peter arbitrarily decided.  God is not manipulated.  Peter was but the servant in Another’s Kingdom; he spoke to the Church and the world on behalf of the King.  Jesus’ declaration only makes sense if we recognize a corresponding action on God’s part – that should Peter ever attempt to teach something false, God would intervene to prevent him from doing so.

The last piece we need to consider is also implicit in Jesus’ statement to Peter. Jesus revived the office of the vizier and placed Simon in it. Yet, Peter’s sojourn on earth would come to an end; the Kingdom (or Church’s) survival on earth, on the other hand, was guaranteed by our Lord until the end of time. Because of that fact we should expect there to be successors to Peter, others to hold the much needed keys of service.

For a list of those early successors (composed in 189 A.D.), click here.

[1] Albright, William F., & C.S. Mann (Eds.), Matthew (Anchor Bible). (New York: Doubleday, 1971), p.196.  Cited by Scott Hahn in his audiocassette, The Pope: Holy Father, St. Joseph Communications.

[2] Jaki, Stanley, The Keys of the Kingdom: A Tools Witness to Truth (Franciscan Hearld Press, 1987), p.27-28.

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