Word for Word

by Fr. Jim Dubert
St. Patrick Catholic Church, Waukon

As a Catholic priest, I’m often asked about Pope Francis. Most comments are very positive, especially in reference to what he is saying about the poor, his modeling of living out the Gospel in his personal life, and his comments on world issues, such as support for the Christians being martyred in the Middle East. But most people have no idea why the Catholic Church has a Pope and the biblical foundations for that almost 2000 year old office.
The key biblical passage is Matthew 16:16-19 where Simon Peter replies to Jesus’ question of whom do you say I am by stating:  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. 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.”
These verses are packed full of implications for Peter and the Church. First, the giving of the keys goes back to a reference in Isaiah 22:15-25 where the “key of the house of David” is given to open and shut the doors (binding and loosing), symbolizing the authority of the king. Also, given is a robe, symbolizing the high priesthood, and a girdle symbolizing “having girded your loin with truth” (Ephesians 6:14), like a prophet battling the wiles of the devil. These roles and their authority were bestowed on the steward Eliakim to rule over the “house” (Genesis 41:37-56) of the David’s Kingdom as the second in command, whom the “master has set over his household” (Matthew 24:25-47), and as a “father to the inhabitants.” (The title “father” in Latin is “papa” and in English, “pope”.) So the three offices of Jesus (priest, prophet, and king) are being bestowed on Simon Peter with Jesus’ giving of the keys of the kingdom of heaven and he is being called the Pope.
Secondly, when Jesus calls Simon the “rock” (Peter) he is implying a divine office is being bestowed. In the Old Testament, the “Rock” refers to God (Deuteromy 32:4, 14; Psalm 92:15) and in the New Testament, Paul says the “Rock” in the desert (Exodus 17:1-7, Numbers 20:7-11) was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4) The divinity of the office is also implied from Jesus’ reference to his Father in heaven revealing Jesus’ identity to Simon Peter, not human sources. When Simon had the “faith” to believe and speak this identity he became the rock upon which the Church is built. Thus Jesus in his blessing and naming is saying he will build his Church on the divinely inspired faith of Peter’s office.
Thirdly, Jesus calling Simon Peter’s father “Jonah”, not his true name, John (John 1:42) implies functions of the office are not relying on the holiness of the person or personal opinions of the one holding the office. An important decision Peter would have to make in the early Church in this office is being prophesized here by Jesus.  The reference to Jonah, who resisted God’s call to preach to Gentiles, points to Peter’s personal biases against Gentiles.  As Jonah at Joppa (Jonah 1:3) had to face a hard decision on the Gentiles, Peter at Joppa had a vision, met Cornelius, and baptized Gentiles (Acts 10: 1-48). Realizing his personal biases were wrong and that the Holy Spirit was building the Church with Gentiles, Peter at the Counsel of Jerusalem spoke from his divinely inspired office the decision of the Church on the Gentiles (Acts 15:6-21). Then Paul, Barnabas, James and the other apostles and elders affirmed Peter’s decision, submitting to the decision of the “Pope”, a decision that was counter to Peter’s own personal biases.
Biblically, Peter’s office as Pope has the authority of the second in command in Jesus’ Kingdom. Jesus made this a divinely inspired office of High Priest and protector of the truth upon which he said he would build his Church and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. Peter’s successors in the office continue these roles, and the authority of them, as Eliakim continued the roles and authority of the office of Shedna (Isaiah 22:15-24).
Pope Francis has been selected to hold this office for the Church today. Pray for him that he may live out this divine call and be blessed by Jesus, as Peter was blessed by Jesus.


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