Week 6 of Ordinary Time, Saturday – 22nd February 2020 — Gospel: Matthew 16,13-19
Simon Peter, Patriarch of Salvation history
The context of nicknaming Simon Peter is different in all the Gospels. In John’s Gospel, Simon receives his nickname from Jesus at their first meeting (Jn 1,42). Mark 3,16 seems to suggest that the naming of Peter occurred at the time Jesus selected twelve to be his closest followers. Luke narrates Simon’s interaction with Jesus from 5,3 onwards and then lists him among Jesus’ followers in 6,14. Matthew has anticipated Simon’s new title from 4,18 onwards and does once again here (16,18). Because Peter addressed Jesus with new titles, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, Jesus now reciprocates saying, “You are Peter, the Rock”. While Peter simply acknowledged what Jesus always was, Jesus confers on Peter a new title.
This conferral of title recalls OT instances when Yahweh conferred a new name on some important figures of salvation history. Renaming often signifies a new role or change in status. Sarai becomes Sarah in anticipation of her giving birth (Gen 17,15-16), Abram is renamed Abraham as ‘the ancestor of a multitude of nations’ (Gen 17,4-5; Mt 1,1; 3,9), and Jacob is renamed Israel (Gen 32,28). Names attest God’s purposes (Isa 7-8; Hos 1,4-9; Mt 1,21). Abraham was considered to be the rock from which the people of Israel was hewn (Is 51,1-2), and a rabbinic saying claims that Abraham was the rock on which God built the world. Similarly, Jesus acts with the same sovereign authority as Peter’s Lord. Peter will be the human Patriarch and in the history of salvation his role is to be seen as foundation-stone for the new messianic community. He is not just one stone among many, as in Eph 2,20 where the apostles and prophets constitute collectively the foundation of the Church (Rev 21,14), but as Church’s unique and unrepeatable foundation. We can compare the role attributed to Peter here with that envisioned in Lk 22,32, “and when you have turned, strengthen your brothers and sisters.” Paul likewise attributes a salvation-historical primacy to Peter in 1 Cor 15,5 when listing the resurrection witnesses, and it was Peter alone among the apostles whom Paul sought to interview after his conversion and call (Gal 1,18). His primacy is well attested in the early church and it is not by accident that Peter appears first in all the New Testament lists of the apostles.