Jesus Made A Succession Plan Ahead Of His Death
Jesus prepared Peter for the leadership role He wanted him to play in His Church and society and He subjected him to various trials and tribulations to see whether he had those attributes. Jesus was fond of taking Peter away to a lonely place to teach him the rudiments of leadership/headship. His Apostles knew that their master had a succession plan: the way He carried Peter along when he wanted to do awesome and wondrous things.
Peter denied Jesus thrice before the girl at the gate, before the others and before one of the slaves to the High Priest and a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, saying: “Whom do people say that the Son of Man is? They said, “Some say, John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets”. He said to them: “But you, who do you say I am?” Simon Peter replied: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” Ð Matthew 16:13-16.
Then came the empowerment of Peter. Jesus in his reply said to Peter: “Blessed are you, Simon Peter. For flesh and blood did not reveal this you, but Peter, and it is upon this Rock that I will build my Church and the gates of Hades will not overpower 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 considered loosed in heaven” Ð Matthew 16:13-20
Again, it was to only Peter that He predicted that before the crock crowed, he would have denied Him thrice Ñ Matthew 26:75, Mark 14:69-72; Luke 22:58-62; John 18:25-22. When He prayed at Gethsemane He took Peter along Ñ Matthew 26:37. Even when the Apostles deserted Him, He asked the Twelve Apostles: “You do not want to leave too, do you?” It was Simon Peter that answered: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” Ñ John 6:60-69.
During the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9; Marks 9:2-13, and Luke 9:28-36), it was Peter who Jesus had taking to up a high mountain where they were alone. It was Peter who spoke up and said to Jesus, “Lord, how good it is that we are here! If you wish, I will make three tends here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”.
Jesus reinstated Simon Peter after His death. “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter: “Simon son of John do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord”, he said: “You know that I love you”. Jesus said: “Feed my lambs”. Again Jesus said: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you”. Jesus said: “Take care of my sheep”. The third time he said to him: “Simon son of John, do you love me? Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time. “Do you love me?” He said “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you”.
Jesus said: “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dress yourself and went where you wanted, but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go… Then he said to him “Follow me!”- John 21:15-19.
No doubt, Simon Peter holds the first place in the College of the Twelve Apostles Ñ cf Mark 3:16, 9:2; Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5); Jesus entrusted a unique mission to Peter. Through a revelation from the Father, Peter had confessed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Our Lord then declared to him: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Christ, the “living stone” Ð 1 Pet. 2:4, thus assures his Church, built on Peter, of victory over the powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed, Peter remained the unshakeable rock of the Church. His mission was to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it (cf. Luke 22:32), also in CCC -Catechism of the Catholic Church 552.
The Lord made St. Peter the visible foundation of His Church. He entrusted the keys of the Church to him. The bishop of the Church of Rome, successor to St. Peter, is “head of the College of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal (Catholic) Church on earth”. (CIC, can. 331), and in Catechism of the Catholic Church 936.
The Bishops, established by the Holy Spirit, succeeded the Apostles. They are “the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches” (LG 23), and in CCC. 938. The Church is Catholic: she proclaims the fullness of the faith. She bears in herself and administers the totality of the means of salvation. She is sent out to all peoples. She speaks to all of her very nature” (AG2) in (CCC. 868).
Peter exercised leadership of the Church, when in Acts 1:15, he assumed the position the master bequeathed to him. Peter acted as head of the Church after Christ’s Resurrection. Peter allowed God to make known his choice, in the choice of Matthias Ð the death of Judas Iscariot had left a vacancy in the “College of Apostles”.
Jesus affirmed Simon Peter a Rock, and on this Rock He will build his Church, and what he binds on earth will be considered bound in heaven. It is a manifestation of Christ’s importance of Peter and a man he has trusted to head His Church. And Peter did not disappoint Jesus in his behaviour on taking a decisive leadership role as head of the Church. He addressed the crowd boldly after Jesus breathed on them to receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And Peter seized the opportunity on the day of Pentecost with authority, and “that very day about 3,000 were added to their number”. And he cured a cripple at the (Temple) Beautiful Gate which gave the famous speech: “I have neither silver nor gold, but I give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!” Ð Acts 3:6.
It tells us what its foundation is: faith in Jesus, the Christ and Son of God. It focuses on the primacy of Peter among all the apostles; it suggests that the Church will always need a visible head. This is the successor of Peter, the Pope.
Faith in the Son of God, which Peter, among the apostles is the first to proclaim, really comes from God. This faith is not a human opinion, or a sentimental attachment. It does not come from flesh and blood, an expression which for the Jews meant what is purely human, what a human being does and understands by his own capacity. The words with which Jesus greets Peter happy are you Simon, are true for all the believers. For it is the Father who has chosen us and has brought us to Christ. The primacy of Peter is emphasized. His name was Simon, but Jesus gave him this surname of Rock, foreseeing that he would be for his Church a foundation rock (Jn. 1:40). This change of his name attests that a mission is given to him as happened to Abraham and Jacob (Gen. 17:5 and 32:19). Other texts to the leadership and faith of Peter are to be found in Mt. 10:2; 14:28; 17:25; Lk. 5:8-10; 22:32; Jn. 6:68; 21:15-19.
Is what Jesus told Peter true also of his successors? No one can deny that even in the Old Testament God wanted his people to have a visible head. Jerusalem and the nation had as their centre the Temple and the kings, sons of David. When God chose David the first king of Israel, he promised him that his sons would rule the Kingdom of God forever: this promise was fulfilled in Christ. Now Jesus choose Peter to be forever the visible foundation of the building. In the future his successors will be for the Church, what Peter was in the yearly Church.
So, Peter and his successors will have the last word about who belongs and who do not belong to the body of the believers and what is, or not, the faith, of the Church. Peter is the “door keeper” (Mk. 13:34). His authority is genuine in a Church where all have the right to express themselves, where the leaders are not only imposed, but also accepted.
The question is why was Jesus focusing on Simon Peter? Clearly, Jesus was focusing on Peter to have the leadership role as He knew that He was going to leave His Church for him. He was posing these challenges to him so as to know and build him up for the leadership. Peter demonstrated their loyalty which made Him chose him to head His Church; he demonstrated that faith which allowed and made Jesus had him reinstated as the head of the Church.
It was Peter who made the first proclamation after Jesus’ resurrection. Peter, once again aware of his responsibility in the group of the Twelve Apostles, spoke on behalf of all. He cited the texts of the Old Testament: Joel, the Psalm, etc. and demonstrated their fulfillment in Jesus and the nascent Church.
“Many miracles and wonders were performed among the people by the apostles. All the believers met together in Solomon’s Porch. Nobody outside the group dared to join them, even though the people spoke highly of them. But more and more people were added to the group Ð a crowd of men and women who believed in the Lord. As a result of what the apostles were doing, sick people were carried out into the streets and placed on mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. And crowds of people came in from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing those who were ill or who had evil spirits in them, and they were all healed” Ð Acts 5:12-16.
Too, in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter exercised his authority in his healings (miracles), in his speeches, in his actions and utterances, showing that Jesus Christ has really given him the authority to lead His Church on earth Ñ that is Jesus’ bequeathing power and authority to Simon Peter Ñ as the first Pope. Thus Jesus had a succession plan for His Church and ensured that there was no vacuum of leadership in His Church!
Msgr. Osu is Director, Social Communications,.0