When I was a young minister I once tried telling a gentleman who was up in years how I thought he should behave. “What makes you think that I care for your opinion about what’s good or bad for me to do,” he asked, none to gently. “He’s got a good point,” a small voice whispered to my presumptuous self.
Reflecting later on how poorly I had handled that pastoral situation, it dawned on me that a legal mandate makes a painfully weak foundation on which to base religious authority. Only a life lived in faith gives an authority that all acknowledge. Nothing else really matters. That is what Jesus’ words to Peter and the disciples have come to mean to me.
When Peter, speaking for the disciples, acknowledged Jesus as the Christ or Messiah, he was saying that he saw his life and teaching as providing the path to God’s great future for the world. Not only did he realize it intellectually and emotionally, he had committed himself to living Jesus’ way.
Jesus’ response to Peter and the disciples told them that in committing themselves to his, and thus the Father’s Way, they truly reflected what God was revealing in him. Jesus wasn’t giving them a new legal power. He was pointing out the real authority that their lives now had in the world.
This realization opens up the meaning of authority in the Church. Every one of us who lives the Way of Jesus has the authority Jesus found in the disciples. Bishops and priests represent our authority but it’s the same authority that resides in us all. By our lives we speak the Creator’s promise to our world. That’s who we are; that’s what we do.