In the modern kingdom of Jordan is a big tourist attraction, the rock hewn city of PETRA,
where beautiful tombs are cut out of the living rock: PETER/PETRA.
Isaiah says is all: “Look to the ROCK from which you were hewn”, and the reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us about ministries we all have, varying according to God’s gifts. We’re beginning to get the drift. But then the Gospel hits us straight between the eyes: “You are PETER and on this ROCK I will build my church.”
Jesus says this to Simon, not because Simon is anything so terrific. He is the compromise candidate. If Jesus’ coming kingdom is to be mainly Jewish, he’d choose James. If it’s to be a mainly a Gentile one, Jesus, who knows everything, would know that it’s going to be Paul. But Peter is chosen the future leader because he’s OK with Jews and Gentiles.
And the clever thing is that the Gospel from Luke (22:24-30) for St Bartholomew we heard just a few days ago tells us what sort of leader the Lord, the head of church, has in mind to head His church here on earth: “The greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.”
To put the words “You are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my Church” right round inside the dome of St Peter’s Rome is to use the Primacy of St Peter in the opposite way that Jesus intended, to prove the universal jurisdiction of the Papacy. As indeed one of the Papal titles from Gregory the Great accepts: Servant of the servants of God.
And then at the very end of today’s Gospel we hear the mysterious words “Then he sternly ordered the disciples NOT TO TELL ANYONE that he was the Messiah.”
This Messianic secret has double significance. The more obvious one is that once people know Jesus is the Messiah, they’ll flock to him for all the wrong reasons: to get on his bandwagon, to cash in on his miraculous powers, and so on.
The second reason is a deadly one. If the Jewish authorities in the Temple, and at Herod’s court, and even more so the Roman authorities, get to know Jesus’ followers say he is the Messiah, they’d get him killed as soon as possible. As they did soon enough. But Jesus has plenty of teaching still to do, by word and example, so he needs a bit more time. So he sternly ordered the disciples NOT TO TELL ANYONE that he is the Messiah.
Jesus is one of the world’s greatest story tellers. Every story packs a punch, but does not encapsulate the whole of salvation. That’s why we need to hear both the story of the Rock, and the story about not lording it over people.
Jesus’ teaching must be taken as a whole.