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A share in the Rock


Here is an article I wrote several years ago that I would like to share today, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter– a  day celebrating the teaching authority that Christ conferred on St. Peter and his successors.

GOD is referred to often as the Rock in Sacred Scripture. In Deuteronomy, for example, we read:

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deut.32:4)

Also many times in the Psalms, the Lord is invoked as rock. Jesus is the type of the rock in Exodus from which water flowed (1 Cor. 10:4). He is indeed our Rock of Refuge!

When we read the Gospel of Matthew chapter 16 we see Jesus call Simon Bar-Jona rock! Peter (Greek: Petros) means rock. What are we to make of this? Let’s look:

[17] And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not r evealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
[18] And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
[19] I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Simon had just declared “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (v16) in answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” (v15). Notice how Jesus responds! Jesus tells him who he is (v18)! Jesus says to him, “you are Rock (Petros) and upon this rock (petra) I will build my church.” One might ask—why are 2 different Greek words used? The Greek word petra is feminine and thus, is not used in the first instance. Instead, the masculine word petros is used—both words meaning the same thing. In Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, the word for rock is kepha. Had we been there when Jesus spoke verse 18 we would have heard kepha twice. The Aramaic word for Peter is actually preserved in John’s Gospel and elsewhere as “Cephas” (a transliteration of kepha). Jesus has renamed Simon as “Rock” and on him (this rock) will Jesus build His church!

Does that take anything away from Jesus? On the contrary, it illustrates perfectly Jesus’ words “apart from me you can do nothing”. Jesus imparts His “Rock-ness” on Peter! Because of Jesus and the empowering of the Holy Spirit, can Peter, a weak sinner, be a sure strong Rock. Remember, it was not Peter by himself who confessed Christ the Son of the living God. The Father revealed this to him. After Pentecost, the place of Peter takes on a more visible prominence above the other Apostles.

By giving him the “keys of the kingdom” Jesus is bestowing His own authority (Rev. 3:7) onto Peter. In the Old Testament, kings would appoint a chief steward or prime minister to govern his people. Isaiah 22:18-23 speaks of a prime minister given authority—a father to the people, with the “key of the House of David” (v22) and “when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open” This is what Jesus is alluding to in Matthew 16:18-19. Jesus, the King of Kings, has appointed a Prime Minister! And the prime minister’s office was successive—the keys are handed down through the ages.

Jesus confirms the man renamed “Rock”, before His Passion and death, at the Last Supper:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”

When Jesus says, “Satan demanded to have you” you is plural. This is evident in the Greek text, which some Bibles render as “you all”, or “all of you”. But when Jesus says, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again” both times the “you” is singular. Jesus is saying, “Satan wants to sift all of you [Apostles] like wheat, but I have prayed for you [you, Simon] that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” Jesus prayed for Simon to be Rock! To strengthen his brethren!

Yet again, after Jesus’ Resurrection, we see the following:

[15] When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
[16] A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
[17] He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

Jesus entrusts Peter with the mission of feeding and tending His flock—His church. He asks three times as a reversal of the three times Peter denied Him.

From all of this we see undoubtedly that Jesus– the Living Stone —-has chosen to build His Church on Peter. Not that Peter was anything—it was Jesus the King who imparted His “Rock-ness”, His Strength and Authority upon a sinful man. Thus, Peter, is the visible representative head of Christ’s Kingdom—the Church on earth. This office of Peter is successive. The current Pope of Rome (as evident in secular history ) is His successor. God provides for His sheep by ensuring protection (from the powers of death) through the ministry of the Pope to feed and tend, bind and loose.

The Rock in Heaven is represented by the Rock on earth. And that rocks!

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