domenica 27 agosto 2017

Servus servorum Dei

Peter the coryphaeus (ὁ κορυφαῖος) and Andrew the “first-called” (ὁ πρωτόκλητος)

Peter’s confession is an episode we find in all the gospels, not only in the synoptics, but even in John, although in a different way. But Matthew’s account of the event is distinguished from the others. Mark, Luke and John confine themselves to report Peter’s confession: “You are the Christ.” Matthew, instead, tells us how Jesus reacted to this profession of faith: he conferred on Peter a primacy over the other apostles and the whole Church. If we do not find this narrative in the other gospels, it does not mean that Matthew invented it; all the evangelists confirm, some way or other, the change of Simon’s name into Cephas or Peter and his pre-eminence among the disciples. Today’s liturgy seems to emphasize the conferment of the primacy on Peter rather than his profession of faith. So, we will dwell on this aspect, even because it can be useful to fix some points.

First. Jesus intended to found the Church. In the past, there were some theologians who maintained that the only purpose of Jesus was to announce the kingdom of God; then his disciples founded the Church. That is not true. Jesus knew that his physical presence in the world was temporary; so, he wanted his disciples to continue his mission after his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. He made of his disciples a community, which should replace the people of Israel. This new people of God is the Church. She does not coincide with the kingdom of God; but, as the Second Vatican Council says, she is on earth the seed and beginning of that kingdom.

Second. The Church is not a purely spiritual community; it is also an organized society with human structures. At the head of the Church there are the apostles, and at the head of the apostles Jesus put Peter. We believe that the role entrusted by Jesus to Peter and the other apostles did not become extinct with them, but was passed on to their successors—the Pope and the Bishops. It could not be differently; otherwise, how could the Church survive and continue the mission Jesus entrusted to her?

Today’s liturgy invites us to reflect especially upon Peter’s role in the Church. I think we could condense it into just few points: coryphaeus, master of the palace, and key bearer.

Peter is, first of all, the coryphaeus. Our eastern brothers love to style Peter this way. What does it mean? In the ancient Greek theater, the coryphaeus was the leader of the chorus; he spoke for all the rest, whenever the chorus took part in the action. So, Peter is the leader of the choir of the apostles; he is a kind of spokesman of them: in the gospel, we often see him speak on behalf of the other apostles. Like in this case: he professes the faith in Jesus not only for himself, but for all the disciples. And that is what the Pope has to keep doing in the Church: he has to continue to confess the faith of the Church: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Secondly, Peter is the master of the palace. We have heard this expression in the first reading, referred to Shebna, who was then replaced by Eliakim. The master or mayor of the palace, sometimes called also “majordomo” was the senior servant who managed a large house. In the ancient civilizations, the majordomo of a king had a political function; he was practically a kind of prime minister. Well, Peter is the majordomo of the Church. This means that Jesus left him in charge of the Church; but Peter is not the head of the Church; the only head of the Church is Christ; Peter is just a servant, the first of the servants. As we used to say once, servus servorum Dei.

Finally, Peter is the key bearer of the Church: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” Which means: Peter has the power to open and shut the gates of the kingdom of heaven, that is to say, he has the authority to allow or to prevent the access to it. This power, along with the power of binding and loosing, is a huge power for the benefit of the Church, but a power exercised by one who is just the servant of the servants of God.