In our last installment (sorry about the delay, btw, had a virus and was also traveling), we saw that in Matthew 16, Our Lord gave Simon the name Peter. Today, we”re going to take a closer look at that name and what it says about his mission in the context of the Church Jesus is building.
The name Jesus–Petros in Greek and Kepha in Jesus’ language–means Rock.
There is no evidence that Kepha was ever used as a proper name before this incident. Peter is a common name now, but not then. It”s like being named Boulder. It was a very unusual name. What did Jesus mean when He called Simon by this non-name, “Rock”?
And what did He mean when He told him He would build His Church on him and the gates of death would not prevail against it? [more]
A number of images come to mind: We could say that Peter was called to be rock-like: dependable, durable, etc. After all such adjectives were used in reference to Abraham in the Old Testament, not to be mention truck commercials. “Like a Rock” connotes a strong, manly image.
But there is another significant image Jesus probably was thinking of when He gave Simon the name “Rock.” And it is this image which has the most potential for bringing to light the Catholic understanding of the papacy.
The most important rock in all of Judaism was the “foundation stone” in the Jerusalem Temple. According to Jewish tradition, this rock served not only as the base of the altar for sacrifice in the Temple, but also was associated with significant moments of salvation history:
This rock was believed by Jews to be
–the site of creation and the foundation on which God built the world.
–the place where Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac to Yahweh.
Get this: According to Jewish tradition (I think I got this from the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible), this foundation stone of the Jewish temple capped off and sealed a long shaft leading down to the netherworld. The Temple was thus in the middle of things, the junction between heaven and the underworld.
Now we see that Peter is the rock upon which He would build His Church, and the gates of death would not prevail against it.
In other words, Peter is the new Temple foundation stone for the new Temple.
Just as God used the Temple rock to build the Temple and protect it from the powers of the underworld, so too God will use Peter to build the Church and protect her.
The Church Christ is building in Matthew 16 will not only play defense–she not only will protect the People of God from the powers of death–but go on the offensive. The gates of death cannot prevail against the new, resurrected life offered by Christ that is brought to the world through His Church.
In the next installment, we”ll talk about the significance of the “keys.”