Why Do We Call Simon Peter?

And I tell you that you are Peter,[b] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it.

-Matthew 16:18

Not too long ago, I was asked the nature of Simon being named Peter. 

It was a question that forced me to pause, not because I thought the answer too obvious. The question itself, I detected, had a great deal of curiosity behind it, a mining of meaning in this very formative moment in Peter’s journey as a disciple.

So why was Jesus’ disciple Simon renamed Peter?

It’s important for us to examine how the disciples show up in the New Testament.

When we look at the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, we see Peter really taking center stage out of the twelve. Just behind him is John, though Peter tends to be far more memorable to us for all that he said and did whereas John tends to be depicted as more passive yet nontheless close to Christ.

It is Peter who declares boldly that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and the same disciple that falls on his face in repentance seeing Christ bring the miracle of the haul of fish. Peter is the one who acknowledges Christ’s power and asks to be allowed to walk on water, but also is the disciple who’s doubt is manifest to the other eleven and to the rest of history. Peter boldly swears to die with Christ and draws his own blade to fight for Him in the garden, and he is also the one who denies Christ three times. While Thomas does go on record once in his boldness of saying, “let us go to die with Him” (John 11:16), Peter’s boldness is a reoccurring theme in the Gospel and Acts accounts.

Besides John, Thomas, and Judas, the rest of the disciples fade in the narrative. We get to know Judas’ deception and love for money. We get to see John’s closeness with Jesus. We get to see Thomas’ zeal before he begins to doubt. The rest of the disciples personality and works unfortunately are not well covered in canonical scripture. Peter is the star, and in just about every film adaptation of the New Testament it is Peter that is often given special spotlight.

And for good reason.

As mentioned already, Peter is the consistently bold disciple, but with his imperfections. Peter enjoys so many peaks in the Gospel accounts, but he has so many human moments of weakness. We sometimes, unfortunately, categorize Peter as a bad example of faithfulness while failing to give credence to his triumphs and later works—similar to how Thomas is ONLY remembered for doubting. Peter doubts, Peter calls himself sinful, Peter promises to kill and does even maim in Christ’s name, and Peter denies Christ three times. And yet Peter is restored at the end, and his ministry is powerful in Acts. But most of all, Simon is called Peter, the Rock, the rock on which Christ builds His Church.

This goes to Simon Peter, not to anyone else, not even John.

Consider the disciple and evangelist John for a moment. He is continually called the beloved disciple, a disciple close to Jesus. He is the author of John—or at least its narrator—and most commonly attributed as well to the Book of Revelation. John doesn’t have a negative account in the narrative. In fact, when the other eleven disciples failed to show up at the foot of the Cross, John was there. It’s often interpreted that John’s showing up at the Cross was reason for his escape from martyrdom, that he already risked his life being a witness to the crucifixion. John is not called Peter, not given this incredible new identity and responsibility from Christ. And it’s nothing against John. That being said, there’s something powerful about Christ’s appointment of Simon Peter.

Simon Peter represents both the potentiality of the Church as well as its flaws. Simon Peter is the rock the Church is founded on because he shows up in his walk with Christ and in his ministry with zeal, despite how brash it sometimes can come across. And Peter has his moments of weakness. Christ blesses Peter with this role, blessing the zeal the Church is to embody while also recognizing our human error.

Often the Church—Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, whether it be a parish or a synod–comes under scrutiny for its ability to err. “The institution of the Church” is a too common scapegoat for the modern Christian, spiritualist, and secularist. We find ourselves allergic to the association of the church because of what we think we know about history. Yes, there have been abuses of power, from the lay level to the episcopal level. But Christ appointed Simon Peter as the rock for His Church. Peter nearly murdered in Christ’s name and had acted “un-Christian” in his denial. But just as we ought not focus solely on Peter’s shortcomings and instead consider his zeal and goodness, so too the Church should be afforded some similar credence. While members of the Church have not always been faithful and sometimes overzealous as Peter, the Church also is an agent of truth and healing like Peter. As much as we like to point fingers and shout out “but what about the scandals and crusades” we need to pause and evaluate the institutions of healing they’ve also provided, the refuge it has been in war for the ostracized, the supporter of the sick, orphaned, and widowed through its instituted agencies. 

Simon Peter reminds us of Christ’s trust to us despite our shortcomings. He didn’t call the qualified to this task, he qualified the called. 

If you think you’re unworthy to serve Christ, think on Simon Peter’s shortcomings as well as his triumphs and realize that Christ can and will teach us how to direct our zeal. If you think your priest, pastor, church cannot be trusted because of its humanness, remember you are just as human as Peter and that the institution is what Christ trusted and ordained. 

Afterall, Christ did not come for the healthy, but for the sick.

Blind Man III: Pride, Prejudice, and the Manhunt for Jesus

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.

17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

-John 9:13-17

When I first met my best friend from college, I thought he was a pot-smoking atheist whose parents made him go to a religious school. The best way to describe him superficially would be to say that he is laid-back, punkish in his fashion, and with manner of speech and mannerisms I could best describe as aloof and even apathetic. But after a month of getting to know him, I found that these presumptions were so far from the truth. He actually was an advocate for those in his school to get out of their destructive habits, was very polished in his tastes of music and art, and had a yearning for finding purpose and meaning in his lives and to help others in their quest for purpose and meaning.

To this day, I tell people that first impressions are after wrong. What has held especially true for me in my life is how a negative first impression is often a good sign that I’m encountering an individual with great depth, with an incredible story, with something important to offer to me.

In the story of the blind man being healed, we see two first impressions of Jesus.

The blind man perhaps is the figure in this story warranting the most amount of distrust. While today we have a society that largely accommodates and protects those with handicaps, it’s not without reason that in the brutal days of the Roman empire that these individuals would be taken advantage of. His earnings from begging might be syphoned, assistance received might be marred by cruelty and humiliation, there is no shortage of scam or abuse that could have taken place for him. But, although the blind man has the most reason for being the skeptic in this story, we see he is the figure with the greatest confession of faith. He boldly calls Jesus a prophet for being able to open his eyes…and later in this reading we shall see that he gives a greater confession of faith, of following after the Messiah and Son of God. The blind man is not jaded because of his handicap, and his handicap doesn’t get in the way of his meeting of Christ. In fact, perhaps, his handicap aids his view on Jesus.

Compare his first impression to that of the Pharisees. The Pharisees not only have their ability to see, but they are well-read and educated. There’s a great deal of “perspective” they have due to their status. Ironically, they are the ones who have trouble of making any confession of faith, of seeing Jesus’ healing as good and godly. Instead they call the Son of God a sinner for performing a miracle on the Sabbath, the day of rest in which no work could be done.

Here the Gospel reminds us that education can mislead us, that acquisition of knowledge can nourish the passions of our intellect: our pride, vanity, fear, and even our wrath. Many of us exit our first year of college or grad school with a sense of superiority with our knowledge, with a contempt for those that we are taught to look down upon. I confess my first year of seminary made me into a boisterous zealot, wherein I was so focused on flaunting the rules of dogma and theology that I had learned, which often distanced myself from my closest of kin and friends. A parenthetical should be stated that knowledge and education are not inherently evil, but rather we must monitor what that education does to our soul, to temper the feelings that might swell in us from such education, and ultimately not to lose our humanity with this acquisition.

This brings us to an important crux in this Gospel lesson: the blind man seeks out God, the Pharisees don’t. What’s interesting is how the Pharisees meander around, asking each other, the blind man, and even his parents for the story of this healing. But never once do they put forth an effort to find Jesus. Instead, they know what they need to know about Him: He broke the Sabbath. That’s enough for the intellectual mob, they’ve already made their verdict without even an investigation.

Again, our intellect and capacity for reason can often affect our souls and mislead us from the truth. While many of us are tempted to place the mind as the highest part of our souls, it’s important for us to keep in mind that God also gives us instinct and heart to listen to as well. Our thoughts are not always our own, and we can be deceived by the noise. But we have gut sensations of trust that we follow for good reason much like Peter in his boldness, and as we see in the Road to Emmaus our hearts can burn and tell us something we know to be true even when our minds just can’t accept the facts.

My appeal here is to the skeptic, the jaded believer, to the one who does not approach the Christ that has been written off. Whatever the reason, whatever the offense, whatever the “broken Sabbath” may be, pursue Him. Argue even if you must. But see how the Pharisees get nowhere when they only pursue the one that Christ has worked the miracle for, when they interrogate the 2nd hand account of his parents. If they were after the truth of the healing, they would have turned the city over to find Him, and some would believe, and some wouldn’t.

But let us not let our prejudices and proud learning prevent us from a real investigation as to who Jesus is. Writing Him off is like missing out on a best friend who we chose not to talk to because of what we thought he/she was about based on the surface.

Seek Him out. Ask the questions in earnest. Set aside the mind, and let us give our hearts and our instincts a chance to guide us to truth.