Eucharist – 11th Sunday after Trinity 23rd Aug
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What’ons in a name?” Shakespeare once asked, since “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Well, yes, if the scent itself is the same: but noses aren’t, and the sense of smell\taste varies from person to person, and from time to time. It’s not the thing itself that changes, but how it is perceived.
The disciples have known Jesus for quite a while by the time he asks the questions in our passage today. Notice how, first, he asks something quite general: “who do people” (in general) “say the Son of Man is?” My useful little book tells me “Son of Man” means, primarily, “member of the order of humanity”, which I rather like, being to do with our dignity as creatures belonging to God. It could be any one of us. But by the time of Christ people were looking for a particular character, and so give particular answers: John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah, by name, or one of the other prophets. Notice how this list goes backwards: candidates have been considered for a very long time, but, so far, no-one has quite met the mark. This reply lets Jesus home in on the thing he really wants the disciples to think about, and find out if they are ready to move on. Still addressing “them” he asks “who do you (plural) say I (singular) am?” Now, maybe that’s a clue – God’s never spoken name (as they knew) was ” I am who I am”, yet here it might just be.
Maybe, for that reason, even those with suspicions were afraid to answer. Maybe they just hadn’t spotted it yet – their friend was a wonderful man, but no more likely than anyone else to be the One. Only Simon (always a bit impetuous) comes out with it: “you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God”. Wow! Immediately, Jesus pronounces a blessing – God’s blessing – as Simon knows. Christ then confirms his identity – this is no human theory, he says, but a revelation from “my Father in heaven” – and so reinforces Simon’s nascent faith. Whatever next?
Everything has changed. Simon simply isn’t the same person any more. Christ bestows on him a new name, Peter, and tells him why he has chosen it. Peter (no longer all at sea) is to be the (rock-solid) foundation of a church which nothing can swamp. He doesn’t say how, he doesn’t say when: just that that is how it will be. The word translated “church” is very like one used in Deuteronomy, where it stands for the few faithful believers left at the very end of time, and using it now means this isn’t the start of some new institution, with headquarters in Rome, but rather the continuation of God’s ongoing plan for salvation, throughout history. Good.
Peter doesn’t rush into the job – those keys aren’t his so he can decide who gets into heaven, and who doesn’t (which only God knows) but (like the key to a map) in order to better understand how heaven is, and how to help people get there. But Christ hasn’t got to his Cross yet, let alone heaven: so he tells them to keep quiet, until they grasp that he must. What happens to Peter we hear of next week, and I (too) shan’t say anything yet: but his confession (that Jesus is who he is) has to come first, as (I think) it must for us all.