Isaiah relates to us the story of Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah. He is not the king, but is to become the “master of the palace” or “chief royal steward”; he is to be set “over the household” (Isaiah 37:2) and is given the key of the House of David. He will replace Shebna, who served as chief steward under King Hezekiah, the king of Judah.
“The ‘prime minister’ or chief steward became a distinct office in the royal government. The king had many servants (in 1 Kgs 4:7 there are twelve), but one man was chief among them and stood between the king and his other ministers. Almost two centuries after David, Isaiah prophesied a transition in the royal government in which one prime minister would be replaced by another (see Is 22:15-25). From this prophecy, we can tell that everyone in the kingdom could identify the prime minister: ‘he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.’ The sign of the prime minister’s office was the keys of the kingdom. ‘And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open'” (S. Hahn, Reasons to Believe, Doubleday, 158-159).
Today’s Liturgy of the Word invites us to read the stories of Eliakim and Peter together. This is because the Gospel sees Jesus appointing Peter as his “prime minister” or chief steward, “using the very terms used in the appointment of the ‘steward’ who governs ‘the household of David’ as vice-regent” (S. Hahn, Reasons to Believe, Doubleday, 170). The authority granted to the vice regent or chief steward is bestowed symbolically with the keys. Eliakim is given the keys to the Davidic kingdom of Judah; Peter is given the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Simon Peter is always listed first in the list of the Twelve Apostles. Despite his human weakness he was called to be the rock on which Christ will build his Church; “he is the one, after he has been converted, whose faith will not fail and who will strengthen his brethren; lastly, he is the Shepherd who will lead the whole community of the Lord’s disciples” (CDF, “The Primacy of the Successor of Peter in the Mystery of the Church”, 3). Just as there is a succession of the Apostles in the ministry of Bishops, so too the ministry of unity entrusted to Peter belongs to the permanent structure of Christ’s Church and that this succession is established in the see of his martyrdom (CDF, “The Primacy of the Successor of Peter”, 3).
Peter’s Successor promotes and defends the unity of faith and communion of all believers. This unity is necessary so that the Church can fulfill her saving mission. The primacy of the Bishop of Rome is expressed first of all in transmitting the Word of God within the whole Church. “As such, it is a supreme and universal magisterial office; it is an office that involves a charism: the Holy Spirit’s special assistance to the successor of Peter, which also involves, in certain cases, the prerogative of infallibility” (CDF, “The Primacy of the Successor of Peter”, 9).
God does not abandon his Church, nor will he allow the gates of hell to prevail against it. Saint Paul today encourages us to contemplate the depths and wisdom of God’s saving plan. When we contemplate the world in the light of Revelation we see that it comes from God and returns to God; we see that it was created through the Word; and we see that it was created for God, for his glory.
Readers may contact Fr Jason Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org.