“Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren…and said: ‘It was necessary for the Scripture to be fulfilled… about Judas.” (Acts 1:15-26)
The way of acting of the Early Church is foundational and normative. With time, tradition may be betrayed. We must go back to the origin in order to reform what was deformed. Reformation never happens by a decree coming from above, but by a humble movement from below that is inspired by the Word passed on by the Gospels. The latter – the norm of the Tradition and not vice versa – always open for us the way to a double conversion: to the past and the present, to Jesus’ story and to how to live it out today.
The community after the Ascension remains united. The first 120 members (i.e., the 12 tribes x 10 = the community) are brought together not by the “difference” of a domineering leader but by their adhering to the Son who makes them all brethren. United in the Upper Room, they prepare their heart by persevering in prayer. But they prepare the body also. Judas betrayed: one apostle is missing. It is necessary to integrate the number of the patriarchs, the 12 columns of the new Temple, who will be “witnesses of the Resurrection.” And this will be accomplished democratically by all, following Peter’s proposal. The text touches two fundamental points, of present day importance: the exercise of authority and the understanding of the mystery of evil.
Peter is the acknowledged authority but not like the worldly powerful. He doesn’t stand alone, outside the circle of the common mortals. He stands “in the midst of the brethren”: they, with equal dignity; he, with responsibility that befits an elder brother. His only power is duty. That of his Master and Lord whose command is: “You must wash one another’s feet as I did to you.” It is a very “down-to-earth” translation of the new law: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:14.34). “Whoever among you wants to be the first, must be the servant of all, in the same way of the Son of Man (Mark 10:44), who is among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27).
A different authority in the Church would be cause of idolatry, defections and divisions. Away with pompous dresses and places of honor! Nobody should call himself Father, Teacher or Guide. We are all brethren, disciples of the Son. A disciple is one who “learns” (discere) to be son and brother/sister of all. The proliferation of colorful titles and respective paraphernalia is a ridiculous deformation. One may object that they are just symbols. But human beings live of the symbols they have in their heads. May the legend of the naked King help us to laugh at our own oddities with a pinch of common sense. The incense of power makes us dizzy and mixes up fantasy with reality. Up to a point it is not so bad: only a touch of carnival. The bad thing is that power tends to rape reality in order to set itself up as truth. If we contemplate our King crowned with thorns, perhaps our stupid game, of which He Himself and the poor pay the bitter price, may cease. People don’t act badly out of malice, only ignorance (Luke 23:34). They think that their craving for power will make them like God. The false image of God, of themselves and of the others – that which is suggested by Satan in Genesis 3:1ff – makes them employ every means for domination instead that of service. This is the root of all that is wrong among us!
And here we come to the second theme: evil. The traitor is not “the” monster. Judas is “one of the Twelve,” “One of you” says Jesus. He represents all of us who, like him, would like – obviously out of love for Him… – a Christ who is rich and powerful who can put everybody under His feet. Thanks to Judas, the Son of Man ends up on the Cross. And it is from there that He heals us from the false image of God and of the human person, shouldering on Himself the evil of our frenzy for possessing, dominating and showing off. This is how, by means of Judas, the Scriptures are fulfilled. And his place among the Twelve is taken by somebody else. It is the place that anybody else can take – I included – as long as I reach conversion, looking and touching the wounds of “my Lord and my God” (John 20:27f).