His mama named him Simon.
He didn’t like to do ‘drawerings’. But he did learn to catch fish. Enough to start his own business and become a pillar of the community.
Out in his docked boat one day on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, in Capernaum, he heard someone shout out his name. It wasn’t a voice he had heard in his neighborhood. But it came from a person he and his neighborhood had certainly heard about. The stories were astounding. The rumours spread like wildfire. The mysterious man from Nazareth had done and said things so shocking and amazing, people all over the region were fishing for the right words to describe him.
And there he stood on the rocky shoreline, yelling out to him something indecipherable. Something about following him somewhere. Something about catching something much more interesting than fish.
The man named Jesus. Not named by his mama, but supposedly by God.
Simon had a family. A home just a stone’s throw from the synagogue and the center of town. A successful business that provided for his loved ones and others. A settled and satisfying life.
And a stranger invites him to drop his life as he knew it like the nets in his hands. And follow him.
And he does.
Granted, as Simon and the ragtag bunch that also decided to heed the stranger’s call began journeying from town to town, they always somehow made their way back to Capernaum. Back to their families and homes. Back to where things were familiar. Back to where they took their first breaths of life and received their names.
But the call was always away from what was old and familiar, and towards what was new and unexpected.
Their winding journey made its way up into the Golan Heights, north of Galilee, to the place known as Caesarea Philippi. A place named (like many in the day) in honour of the Roman emperor Caesar, who was considered by many (most notably himself) to be a god. A place known for a stone cave temple to the pagan god Pan, and a natural spring flowing out of the cave.
In this majestic and mystical setting, Jesus asks his weary followers what the word was on the streets and pathways regarding who people thought he was. A magician or a madman? A rabbi or a rebel? A pauper or a prophet? And they respond with some of the buzzwords and names they had heard…the second coming of Moses or Elijah or John the Baptizer, or one of the other prophets.
But like the masterful teacher he is, Jesus then takes his question to the next level. ‘Rumours around the region are one thing…but what about you all sitting right here…you who have been slogging around this region with me for months now…what do YOU think?
Who do YOU say I am?’
And Simon, the one who always blurted out the answers ever since Hebrew class, even if he was wrong, responded true to form.
‘You are the One our people – God’s people – and our world have been waiting for. The One who will finally bring the Caesars down from their self-made pedestals and self-delusional images of themselves as gods. The One who will expose the Pans of the world as the pretenders that they really are.
You are Mesiach.
You are Cristos.
You are the Chosen, Anointed One of God.’
And for once in his life, Simon blurted out the right answer.
Jesus turned his face towards him in astonishment and awe. He indeed was that One that Simon had proclaimed him to be. And he was so impressed by Simon’s wisdom in that moment that he actually changed his name to Peter.
From rocks in his head to the Rock of the emergent community.
But Jesus had some further explaining to do. He had not come to fulfill all those expectations that the people of God had built up in their minds and clung to in their hearts for so many centuries. Expectations that had grown so compelling over so many generations of subjugation to the Romans and consternation over all the human-made gods and goddesses that had emerged in their midst and their homeland.
He had come not to live up to these expectations, but to tear them down.
He had come not drive out the Romans with strength and sword, but to usher in the shalom, the profound and powerful peace of God in wisdom and wonder.
He had come not to slaughter, but to surrender.
He had come not to take up the throne of political power and authority, but to lay down his life in the weakness that embodies supernatural spiritual power and the humility that incarnates ultimate, universal authority.
Simon Peter had his moment to astound.
Now Jesus had his moment to confound.
And S.P. didn’t get it.
And didn’t like it.
So he did what any good friend would do when he senses that his friend has just publicly snapped his cap. He took him aside and began to remind him of who he is. Who he REALLY is. At least who he is supposed to be.
And then Jesus REALLY snapped his cap. Right back in the Rock’s face. Cristos reminded Petros of who he is.
Who he REALLY is.
NOT who others think he is supposed to be.
And the Rock was silent.
The question is ages old, but remains as powerfully and profoundly new today as it was back in the days of crazy Caesars and pretentious Pans and petulant Peters.
The One asks, ‘Who do YOU say I am?’
And the answers over centuries are as varied and numerous as Solomon’s wives or (fill-in-the-blank-name-of-politician's) positions on political issues.
The names all are different. But if you look closely, they all eventually spell the same thing.
Who have I said that he is?
Who do I say now?
I’ve spent more years of my life now telling people about who Jesus is than not. And as I reflect back on my vocation of the past 27 years or so, the question that yells out to me more loudly and profoundly than any other is this:
When did I start spending less time telling OTHERS about who Jesus is, and more time telling JESUS himself who I think he is?
How often have I pulled him aside in my mind to remind him of who he is…who he REALLY is? Or who I think he’s SUPPOSED to be…which so often I believe to be one and the same with who he REALLY is?
In the light of these questions…and in the face, the panim, the prosopon, the presence of the One to whom these questions point…like Petros standing behind Cristos, the one called to be the Rock of the community who’s pontificating more like someone with rocks in his head…there is only one real, honest and true way I can respond.
(17 Jan 12 - Capernaum, Banias/Caesarea Philippi)