As we’ve been moving through the Gospel of Matthew in the lectionary readings, we’ve spent quite a bit of time with Simon Peter. We’ve seen him at some highs and some lows and just about everything in between. Simon Peter’s name was technically “Simon” prior to this encounter. It’s here, in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus first asks the disciples what others are saying about him. “Who do they say the Son of Man is?” Jesus then goes on to ask the disciples a more pointed question. “Who do YOU say I am?” Simon responds without hesitation that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” And this is where Simon gets a new name!
Jesus, in affirmation of Simon’s response, says, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Wow! Clearly Simon (Peter) gave the right answer! Jesus, gives Simon the name Peter because Peter means ROCK in Greek. So Jesus is saying that Peter, and his testimony regarding Jesus, will becomes the foundation of a more formalized Jesus movement…the church.
It’s a complex passage about revelation, testimony and the church that we could dig into in all kinds of different ways. But one thing that strikes me in this passage is that Peter identifies Jesus and then Jesus identifies and renames Peter. Jesus expands Peter’s understanding of himself and his role in this Jesus movement. And, for those of us who have followed along with the highs and lows of Peter, we might wonder if he’s up to the task! He may be Peter, the Rock, but how solid is he? Because even though he got the right answer this time, we know that’s not always the case. The more skeptical part of me wonders if Peter, at this point, is ready for the keys to the station wagon much less the “keys to the kingdom of heaven.” And yet Jesus, without restraint, identifies Peter as the foundation for so much that is to come.
We’ll continue the conversation on Sunday! Questions for reflection are included below for those who would like to dig in a little deeper before worship. I’m looking forward to being together!
Matthew 16:13-20 (CEB)
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Consider these questions:
- What would you say in response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”
- In your spiritual journey, have you sensed a “change of name” or a change of identify? What does your “inner critic” name you? How does God rename you?
- In what ways have you been called and empowered to offer a voice of witness or testimony in the world?
- How is PBUMC/the United Methodist Church/the church in general offering a clear testimony in the world? Where and how are we struggling to do this?