“Who do you say that I am?”
That’s the million-pound question for Simon. He’s already got the ‘ask the audience’ answers up on the board, as it were: some say he’s John the Baptist (difficult, given that John was by this stage suffering from a slight case of death), some say he’s Elijah, others Jeremiah (both more decidedly dead, several hundred years before). Which means that everyone is saying that Jesus is a prophet, because Jeremiah, Elijah and John all prophesied the coming of the Messiah, the anointed one – in Greek, the Christ – who would come to judge and save the Jewish people. They thought that Jesus was yet another of these prophets, heralding the Christ’s coming.
But Simon doesn’t choose any of the answers on the board, because, to stretch the metaphor, he’s opted to ‘phone a friend. Or, properly speaking, he’s already been ‘phoned by a friend: God. Somehow, the right answer has been mystically revealed to him:
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
“That’s right,” says Jesus. “Correct! Spot on! Bingo! You, Simon, get to go home with this luxury three-piece suite.”
Jesus isn’t just another prophet, waiting for the Messiah: He is the Messiah and Son of God.
Just as Simon has correctly identified Jesus, so Jesus gives Simon a new identity: a nickname. “Peter,” Petros in Greek, wasn’t actually a proper name in Jesus’ day. It meant “stone” or “rock.” “Peter” basically means “Rocky” (cue The Eye of the Tiger for S. Peter’s fitness regime montage.) Jesus’ joke – if that’s what it is – makes more sense when you know this: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church” would really have sounded more like, “You are Rocky, and on this rock I will build my Church.”
But with a serious meaning. Jesus is making Peter the leader, even the foundation, of what will become the entire Christian Church. He is giving him the virtual keys to the Kingdom – that’s why, if you see a statue in a church of bearded man holding a pair of keys, it’s St Peter – delegating the power to set people free from fear and sin and admit them to eternal life in divine love.
But what: Peter, leader of the Church? You mean the fisherman Peter, who maybe couldn’t even write, definitely didn’t get C or above in GCSE maths and English (OK, Greek or Aramaic); Peter, who got so little of Jesus’ teaching that he’d get a sword out to fight the guards who came to take Jesus away; Peter, who would betray Jesus three times before the cock crowed, deserting his Lord and friend, the commoner, the runaway, the failure?
The same Peter who denied the crucified Lord three times would be told three times by the Resurrected Lord, “feed my sheep. Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep.”
All because he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
So, it’s over to Jeremy Clarkson for the answer…
If Peter was wrong, then all we’ve got left is a dead prophet.
If Peter was wrong, then his own death by crucifixion on an inverted cross on 29 June in AD 64 was meaningless.
If Peter was wrong, then all the others who have followed Christ for the last 2000 years have wasted their time. You can’t feed a Church of millions with a dead prophet.
But if he was right?
Then love invites us to an everlasting feast, free from evil, free from fear – and Peter is already there, waiting to open the door, in his hand, the key:
“Who do you say that I am?”
The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.