Most of us don’t want to deal with delegates or substitutes. If we have a complaint or problem, we prefer to speak with a manager or supervisor, not an “associate” (as they are termed now). The fact is, however, delegated authority is part of the reality of everyday life. The Lord certainly works through delegated authority, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. For example, Moses received God’s delegated authority to lead the Israelites through the desert to the Promised Land. Peter, too, receives Christ’s delegated authority in today’s gospel.
The first reading is a description of the transfer of authority from Shebna, master of the palace under King Hezekiah, to Eliakim. Isaiah prophesies Shebna’s loss of position because he had built himself a magnificent tomb – an apparent overreach of his authority. In Shebna’s place, Eliakim will receive the robe and sash as symbols of his new authority. Eliakim is promised the “key of the House of David” – a symbol of great delegated authority under the King.
The theme of delegated authority is continued in the gospel. When Simon Peter confesses that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” he is given delegated authority to govern the Church in Christ’s name. He receives the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” and the authority to bind and loose. Peter is to be a rock of stability and an ensurer of unity in and for Christ’s Church, to shepherd the flock and safeguard the deposit of faith.
St. Paul ends chapter 11 of Romans with a glorious hymn of praise to the mystery of God’s providential plan – “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” God’s ways are indeed mysterious and inscrutable, especially in His use of delegated authority – weak, frail human beings – to accomplish His purposes.
DEALING WITH GOD’S DELEGATED AUTHORITY
Perhaps we don’t always like to deal with God’s delegated authority, but we really don’t have a choice. This is the way the Lord planned it and He expects us to defer and submit to those to whom He has entrusted delegated authority. We have to look beyond the particular individuals or personalities involved, and respect the office as instituted by Christ.
Peter was not perfect, as the gospels clearly show, but the Lord still invested him with delegated authority for His Church. May we pray in the words of today’s Collect: “O God…grant your people to love what you command and to desire what you promise, that, amid the uncertainties of this world, our hearts may be fixed on that place where true gladness is found.”