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 II: Would You Let God Spit On You?

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

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.” (John 9:6-7;13-16)

When we pray, most of the time we are asking God for something.

I mention this not to stop anyone from relying on God. In fact ,I think we need to rely on God far more than we usually do. Too often is the case that we get on our knees before God when things get really bad rather than when things are seemingly going alright. Regardless, God hears these prayers from our aching heart. His ears are open to us. But are our eyes, ears, and hearts towards Him as we wait?

In short: when we ask God for something, do we have expectations?

Do we imagine an answered prayer should look a certain way? Do we have a timeline when a miracle should manifest? Would we be upset if God’s response was an indirect answer, addressing perhaps not the symptom of our problem but the disease?

The healing of the blind man is a perfect manifestation of our tendency to have expectations on prayer, specifically, on how God should answer them.

When we line up the various miracles that Christ did, we see that He doesn’t operate in a one size fits all manner. For the centurion, He speaks a word from afar and the servant is healed. For the paralytic, He forgives his sins. To the lepers, He gives them the task of walking with faith to the high priests, and to Peter’s mother-in-law He rebukes (as though chastising a child) the illness. In most cases, we see that Jesus gives a word alone and the illness is healed, the demon is cast out, and the spirit returns to the body. Jesus Christ is the Word of God, the Divine Logos, and we so we see how powerful God’s Word is through His speech. It’s hard to imagine if the people around Him would have preferred Jesus touching the infirm over speaking a word, but the alternative to this wasn’t always so palpable.

In John 9, and even in Mark 8, Jesus performs a miracle in a way that might hit a nerve with our disgust sensitivity. Imagine if you were told by someone they could heal you with their saliva. Would you feel comfortable with that, let alone believe them? In the aforementioned healings of the blind men, Jesus spits in dirt, makes clay, and heals the blind.

But looking before at all the cases wherein Jesus heals merely by speaking a word, it begs the question why Jesus would suddenly use this tactic? Why did He use dirt and spit instead of just some water, or saying the word? Why didn’t He just reach out and touch the eyes with His fingers and leave out all the other elements? Perhaps none of those questions were on the Pharisees mind when they witnessed a Jew healing on the Sabbath.

If anyone were in need of a Scriptural basis for how low dirt was regarded, one need look no further than Christ telling the Disciples to “shake the dust off your feet” when they enter a town that would not receive them, noting that even the lowest thing the town offered to the Disciples was not worthy of being carried out by them. Dirt is under trod by the masses, a stain, and even associated with death as we remember God speaking to Adam, “from dust you were born, and to dust you will return.”

It’s not much further of a stretch for us to associate spit with something just as demeaning. All bodily fluid was regarded as an unclean thing, and the timeless manner in which people are insulted was through spitting on someone’s face. Ancient peoples had a sense of the unsanitary nature of human saliva, and so one can imagine what those around Jesus must have thought or felt seeing Him create clay with His spit instead of blessing and pouring water.

But the Lord has His purposes with these elements, He has reason to “spit on us”.

To begin, we can regard Jesus using elements instead of speaking as a testimony to Christ favoring using vessels of His Grace instead of performing a miracle without a means of extra elements. What I mean by that is that God is not a micromanager, that the Lord seems to delight in using His Creation as a vehicle for His Grace. Jesus can, has, and will heal by His voice alone, but we still see so many cases of Jesus healing through His saints, His relics, His creation (human and otherwise). The symbol of the dirt and spit combining together into the clay of healing is an image of God and man working in tandem to heal. God exhales His Grace into you and I, and we are responsible for participating and retaining that Grace so that the blessing may multiply.

The other component of these elements of spit and dirt is the reminder that humility is what’s needed in our hearts to receive a miracle, to receive God’s message to us. Again, dirt and spit are lowly elements, things that you and I would prefer not have on or in our faces, and yet the Lord heals by it. Onlookers may have cringed seeing this display of healing, and were the young man germophobic perhaps he would flinch if he saw what was happening. But this healing reminds us the need for humility when we approach God for a request in prayer. We cannot go to God with our lofty ideas of how He should answer our prayers and needs. Instead, we go with bowed head and bended knee, expecting perhaps nothing but total humiliation…but in said humiliation finding unfathomable treasure.

As we already touched on, it wasn’t merely the elements that were scandalous in this healing, but the timing. Why did Jesus have to intentionally do this on the Sabbath, on a day that would upset so many? Another way of putting this is why didn’t Jesus heal on a day easier for everyone else?

That often becomes a question after we put our petition to God. Sometimes we suffer so greatly and the healing comes days, weeks, months, years later. Sometimes our misery is not immediately relieved, and we are indignant like the Jews, thinking God has done something unlawful by not abiding in our time and expectations. The difference between a “late” answer to a prayer and an answer to a prayer on the Sabbath is not that far when we consider that God—outside of time—has the best understanding of when a miracle or answer ought to come.

The healing of this blind man is not only a commentary on spiritual blindness. It’s also a message to us who go on bended knees before the Lord. When we pray, there is a need for us to humble ourselves first to God’s will. Asking for God’s mercy and expecting to be humbled and having to be patient is a good posture, because humility and patience are already qualities God is aiming to grow in our hearts. This is not to say that we should pray with pessimism or with a lacking of trust or confidence. Rather we address our real needs, we ask for God to see to these needs in the wisest manner, to open our eyes to see how and why He works the way He does, and ultimately that whatever we ask leads us to glorify Him and become a closer disciple of His.

Let us stay attentive to God’s abundant mercy in our lives.