you blessed Abraham and Sarah,
and made them a great nation.
Keep us in remembrance
of the rock from which we are hewn,
that the waste places of our lives
may blossom to your glory. Amen
RCL readings for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost may be found here.
I’ve been fascinated by rocks ever since I moved out of the piedmont south into more hilly terrain when I was a kid. Boulders protruding from the hillside, old stone walls marking boundaries, chunks of granite hewn from deep quarries have all captured my imagination. We think of rocks as hard, impenetrable, sturdy, strong, everlasting and unchanging, but in fact rocks began as liquids and were formed and solidified through a long process of cooling and undergoing pressure. Despite their strength, they are not indestructible. If you have sharp enough and strong enough tools you can cut them or break them; if you have explosives you can blast them apart. Exposed to natural elements over time—wind, water, the steps of humans and other creatures, rocks can be worn away, eroded, reduced to dust. In fact, the rocks we see are undergoing a constant process of erosion, much as we humans are undergoing a constant process of aging.
Rocks as metaphors or images of strength and stability are found throughout scripture. In Isaiah, Abraham and Sarah are compared to a rock or quarry—the foundation from which the people of Israel were hewn. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus uses the house built upon the rock as a metaphor for those whose faith is strong enough to withstand trials and tribulations. And in today’s gospel Jesus calls one of his disciples, Simon Bar Jonah, “Petros” or “Peter”, the masculine form of the Greek word for “rock”, and goes on to say that “on this rock, I will build my community.”
The name “Peter” is familiar to us, but “Petros” or “Peter” was not used as a name in the pre-Christian era. So what was Jesus up to when he called Simon Bar Jonah “Peter”? In Greek literature, petros was a sign of imperturbability and firmness, traits similar to those of rocks. These traits have hardly seemed to characterize Simon in our gospel narrative so far. Although he sometimes seems to “get” who Jesus is (in this passage, he seems to have a flash of insight,) at others he back peddles and flounders, and we know that when Peter will eventually deny even knowing Jesus when he is arrested.
How might Simon Peter serve not only as the foundation of Jesus’ community, the one we know as “church?” And how might he be a model for us as we seek to be disciples? Perhaps it’s in his willingness to change, his openness to momentary insights, or his inner strength and sturdiness that eventually allows him to weather the tumultuous days of the early church.
Not only does Jesus promise to found his community on Peter and his witness, he also promises him the keys to the kingdom. It’s easy to imagine Peter with the keys to the pearly gates of heaven; what other ways might the metaphor play out? If Jesus is proclaiming the here-and-now realm of God, what might the keys to that realm look like for us? How might we use them to unlock the kingdom and help to fully instantiate it?
If Peter just isn’t your guy, perhaps you might want to consider the various gifts of the Spirit Paul outlines in his letter to the Romans. How do we identify our gifts? How do we use them in the world?
Lots to ponder! Join the discussion with your questions, your insights … whatever you’ve got!