In today’s gospel, Jesus does something that might strike us as peculiar—perhaps even wrong.
Our Lord “summed his twelve disciples and gave them authority.” As the Eternal Son of God, Jesus has all authority in Heaven and on earth. God does not receive his authority from others. He is the author of all being, truth, and goodness. Therefore, he has ultimate author-ity over all that is. Moreover, Jesus has the ability to confer authority upon those whom he chooses.
None of this is strange or controversial.
What may arouse feelings of discomfort or puzzlement in us, however, are those upon whom Our Lord confers authority: the twelve disciples. Today’s gospel identifies, by name, the disciples. And among the twelve are included Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot.
Neither of these two figures strikes readers of the Four Gospels as very impressive, virtuous, or faith-inspiring.
Simon Peter consistently manifests an irascible personality. He is prone to rash decisions—decisions that are often quite imprudent. Moreover, Jesus frequently has to correct Peter for his impetuosity. And what is worse, Peter betrays Jesus in the most vulnerable moments of Our Lord’s earthly life. Quite frankly, Peter commits one of the gravest sins possible: he denies that he even knows Our Lord.
Peter prizes his own life and security over Our Lord.
Judas Iscariot also betrays Our Lord—he turns Jesus over to the people who will eventually crucify Our Savior. And Judas does all of this for a mere thirty pieces of silver.
Judas prizes money over Our Lord.
In brief, at different points in their lives, both Peter and Judas cherish things other than Jesus more than Jesus. And these decisions are radically opposed to the gospel message: Jesus is our prize, our salvation, our all.
So, we can ask: why did Jesus confer divine authority on both of these unworthy men?
First, the sins of Peter and Judas did not surprise Jesus. Our Lord knows all things. He knew—and even explicitly predicted!—that both of these men would betray him.
Second, the sins of Peter and Judas did not frustrate the accomplishment of Our Lord’s saving mission. No sin was able to stop Jesus from bringing salvation to the world through the cross and through the seven sacraments.
Third, although Peter was the first pope, his own failures did not invalidate the holiness and power of the Church that Christ instituted. The Church continues to be the Bride of Christ and the instrument of salvation.
And this is why Jesus conferred divine authority upon the twelve disciples—including Peter and Judas. He wanted all Christians to recognize—from the very beginning of the Church—that he himself is the principle and the cause of saving truth, power, and goodness. He wanted Catholics to know that there are no sins that can undermine or frustrate his saving work in world.
In a word, Jesus wanted to show us—from the very beginning of the Church—that he himself is responsible for salvation. He is in control. Nothing can undermine his saving power. No disciple, pope, bishop, or priest communicates saving truth and mercy in virtue of their own human holiness or authority. Jesus confers his authority upon his Church. And all Christians receive from the Church nothing less than Jesus himself.
The modern world often tends to evaluate the power of Jesus and of the sacraments in light of human holiness and virtue. Moreover, some people want to dismiss Jesus or the Church because of failures on the part of Our Lord’s disciples or in the Church’s members. Both of these tendencies are very sad. Why? Because both of these tendencies forget that Jesus knows what he is doing and that Jesus—himself!—is the inviolate Savior.
Therefore, at this Mass, we thank Jesus that no human sin or failure can invalidate Our Lord or the salvation that he gives through the sacraments. Moreover, we also pray for all of those in the Church who, perhaps, falsely believe that sins—their own sins or the sins of others—can frustrate Our Lord’s work of salvation. May they be reminded that Jesus, himself, is our salvation. And nothing can undermine Our Lord’s holiness and ability to save.
Finally, may we all draw near to Jesus so that we all can find our spiritual identity, our true healing, and our eternal happiness in him.