The gospel for today is often a central part of any discussion about the role of Peter as appointed leader of the early church leading into the successors of Peter as the Pope of the modern Catholic Church. A modern evangelical scholar, nominally part of a religious perspective that would deny any particular role assigned to Peter, offers that his peers have to twist Scripture out of shape to reach that conclusion. Their arguments are molded to fit their predetermined end. This scholar holds that clearly Peter was assigned leadership. However, he would argue that there is nothing in these verses to point beyond Peter’s leadership of that group of Apostles. He argues that Catholic apologists argue to their own predetermined ends.
I have no intention of rehearsing the same arguments carried on for some 700 years. They are well covered elsewhere. But let us consider today’s readings for the broader category of Christian leadership – and I don’t limit the thought to ecclesial leadership. I think the same applies to home, office, and play – even in a secular world.
Our Gospel passage points to the exemplary faith of the apostle as a foundation stone and principle of unity. The heart of it all is Peter’s faith in Christ. The choices he will make will be human and divine. He won’t always get it right, but Peter always returns to the central core: faith in Christ. He ever seeks to live out that faith and ground his choices in the Faith.
The first reading offers: Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:2-3)
Here we have simple and clear advice on Christian leadership which, for all its antiquity, is never out of date: watch over the flock of God, not simply as a duty but gladly, because God wants it.
Today’s readings hold good advice for moms and dads, coaches and teachers, butchers and bakers – candlestick makers too. Good advice for Popes, Bishops, and Pastors. Good advice for civic and business leaders. Good advice for elected officials and judges. In fact, I can’t think of any for whom this is not good advice.