Luke 22:24-32 – Who is the Greatest?
Many people object to the Catholic idea that one man was chosen by Jesus to lead the entire Christian Church, and one common objection to such a leader is based upon the mistaken notion that Jesus taught there would be no leader which arises from a mis-reading of a passage in Luke’s gospel. Let’s take a closer look at the passage to see what is really going on.
24 A dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 26 the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules (hegeomai) like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you (plural) as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you (singular), Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen (sterizo) your brothers.”
There are four points we can draw from this:
First, the Church is run by God and men. Look at how Christ describes the role of the Twelve in Heaven: enthroned, with a Kingdom, sharing in Communion with Christ, and sitting in Judgment. If a Catholic were the first to call St. Peter (or any of the Apostles) a king in Heaven, and declare him a Heavenly judge, people would call us idolaters. Yet Christ Himself says confers this status upon the Twelve because His Kingship and His eternal plans are things He shares with these mere mortals both on Earth and in Heaven
Second, leaders in the Church are called to serve. As laity, we love this message. Hurrah! Someone is going to serve us! But note this well: Jesus is telling those in charge how they should act, but He doesn’t condition their authority on it. He doesn’t say, “Whoever serves is in charge,” but rather “Whoever is in charge should serve.” Sometimes leaders in the Church fail – or at least, we would prefer things be done differently. But that doesn’t mean they’re not leaders. Christ is the One who chooses the leaders. He chose the Twelve including the traitor Judas and the so-often incompetent Eleven. And yet to these Eleven (and Matthias), He promises eternal kingship in Heaven in Luke 22:29-30.
Third, Peter is called to serve the other Apostles, just as they are called to serve us. In other words, the question arises who the greatest of the Disciples is. Jesus says that the greatest is the one who will serve the others, and then tells Peter that his job is to serve the others. Just as the Twelve are called to serve us, Peter is called to serve the Twelve. For this reason, the pope is called Servus Servorum Dei, or Servant of the Servants of God.
Fourth, Jesus is calling Peter individually. In v. 31, Jesus says that Satan has desired to sift all of the Apostles like wheat. He’s after them all! And Jesus says, “But I have prayed for you (singular), Simon.” To protect all of the Apostles (and by extension, the entire Church), Jesus is specially protecting one of them, Simon Peter, and He says this openly and mentions Simon specifically by name. Of course, Jesus knows that Peter will still fall, because Peter has a free will (it’s worth noting that all of the Apostles, not just Peter, fled), and yet, Jesus makes it clear that Peter’s denial will not prevent Peter from fulfilling the role Jesus has in mind for him when He prayed saying “When you [Peter] have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
There’s nothing anywhere in Scripture remotely like this for any of the other Apostles. Jesus never tells one of the others that their mission is to strengthen the rest; He never tells another one of the Twelve that He is praying for them alone. The point is just abundantly clear: Christ describes ideal Church governance as service, He calls all of the Twelve to that service, and then He calls Peter singly to do for the Twelve what the Twelve do for the rest of the Church. In that role of service, Peter is called to be the greatest of them all.
Adapted from “Pope Peter, Part 1: Strengthen Thy Brethren” by Joe Heschmeyer