Was Peter THAT important?

Peter, some dispute, was just another disciple, no different to any one else. Others some might say that he was the first among equals, he was after all the first to speak up when Jesus asked a question. What made him so special? Lets have a look at some significant scripture verses that support the catholic position of Peter being the leader Jesus intended him to be. 

Key Moments in History 

Luke 5:8 is significant because Simon is called Peter for the first time in Luke’s gospel. Luke structures this passage like those in the Old Testament. First a person is named twice. Look at Genesis 22:11 where God calls out “Abraham, Abraham” just as he’s about to sacrifice Isaac, or Exodus 3:4 where we see “Moses, Moses” in front of the burning bush. Another New Testament reference is found in Acts 9:4. This is the infamous road to Damascus where Saul is converted to Christianity through the words of Jesus, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Another thing that happens in this passage (returning to Luke 5:8) is that Simon’s name is changed to Peter, drawing on Matt 16:18. Again from the Old Testament we see a name change with Jacob to Israel in Genesis 35:10, and with Abram to Abraham in Genesis 17:5 (and Sarai to Sarah), none of which appeared in scripture before God uttered their names. 

Note that these events mark significant change in the history of Israel – the promise of a nation (Abraham); the beginning of the fulfillment of a covenant (Sarah bears Isaac); the test of fidelity (Isaac’s sacrifice); the start of the promised nation (Israel); the freeing of a nation (Moses). Could the same significance be given to Simon Peter? 

Another scriptural connection is the recognition of the divine name by way of falling on the ground. We see this, for instance, in the same passage as Abraham’s renaming when he falls to the ground in Genesis 17:3 after recognizing the divine presence of God. 

Promises to Peter Alone

There are promises that Jesus made to Peter alone: four in the marquee (and already referenced) Matt 16:18-19 – 1) “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church”; 2) “the gates of hell will not prevail against it”; and 3) “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven”; 4) “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven”. This last one was also extended to all discples later. Much has been written on all these but allow me to draw some things to your attention. 

First, Jesus’s church was not built on anyone else but on Simon Peter. Incidentally, this is the only time we see the two named Simon Peter in the gospel of Matthew. (Another key moment in history?) 

Secondly, the gates of hell words were spoken to him alone. The church founded on him contains gates that no evil will overcome. It reminds me of the prophecy of Jeremiah (15:20). Jeremiah in his distress calls out to God. God promised that Jeremiah will be as a fortified gate of bronze that will prevail against the evils of the world. I don’t think it is too long a bow to draw a comparison between Jeremiah and Peter, but perhaps it is. 

Next, the third promise, we see the giving of the keys to the kingdom. Drawing from the Davidic kingdom in which Eliakim is given the keys to the kingdom (Isaiah 22:20-22) Peter here is also given a different set of keys to a different kind of kingdom. There is a clear significance of authority given to the one to held the key. That significance is still recognized today in Peter. 

Lastly, from as early as Numbers 3:1-2 Moses relays what God has stated about the significance of binding something, that it is an oath or a vow. Like things, words can also be bound to a person, and by a person. Here Peter is that person. Additionally the gospel was written in Greek, and the Greek language, similarly to English, has tenses though somewhat differently. The tense in this phrase means from now on; it is an open ended statement without limitation. This is essentially like giving Peter a blank cheque. Whatever you bind… 

Sole Authority

As well the promises given to Peter there are commands that were given only to him. These two are “strengthen the brethren” (Luke 22:32) and “feed my sheep” (John 21:17). It seems to me quite perculiar that Peter alone was given these commands. Surely all the brethren should strengthen each other, there is strength in numbers (11:6) after all (just a little joke; look it up!). Likewise, feed my sheep – which clearly doesn’t refer to real sheep and real food – but the spiritual support of the flock of Jesus: those who hear his voice and follow him (John 10:27). But Peter has been singled out for this command. It just doesn’t make sense. Unless, of course, his role was different to those of the other apostles. And as the leader, his role was different. 

The Firsts

Here I’ll just list a few things. Suffice to say that Peter did many firsts in the church. 

🔹Peter initiated the election of the first apostolic successor (Acts 1:15-17)
🔹Peter preached the first sermon after Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36)
🔹Afterwards, Peter received the first Jewish converts (Acts 2:41)
🔹Peter performed the first miracle (Acts 3:6-7) 
🔹Peter inflicted the first punishment (Acts 5:1-11) 
🔹Peter excommunicated the first heretic (Acts 8:21)
🔹Peter was the first apostle to raise someone from the dead (Acts 9:36-41)
🔹Peter received the revelation to admit Gentiles into the church (Acts 10:9-16)
🔹Peter first recieved Gentiles into the church (Acts 10:44-48)
🔹And finally, Peter made the first decisive act at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:7-11)  

While there may not be one single scripture reference that states out rightly that Peter is the leader of the church (though many rely on Matt 16:18-19 and its interpretation) these lesser known ones begin to build a strong case, built on Rock. To those who say Peter was not THAT important, I say that Jesus thought he was, and the early church continued to respect his authority; as does the Catholic Church. In light of apostolic succession (Acts 1:15-17) we still have a Peter with us today. 

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Mouth to Mouth: A reflection on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Understand that man does not live on bread alone but that man lives on everything that comes from the mouth of God

The famous words of Moses at the end of the first reading (Deut 2:2-3,14-16) become the anchor on which, John especially, develops a Eucharistic theology. From this I take a particular importance of life and bread but also of the mouth.

Living in a land obsessed with water and the beach life we often see at beaches flags between which we should swim. This is the patrolled area of the beach where if one is swimming is watched by the surf lifesavers: mostly volunteers who are well trained in many aspects of the beach conditions and first aid. We Aussies know that swimming in the safety areas we are watched and have a stronger likelihood of surviving any danger that comes our way (and there are few dangers in the waters of Australia!). It is not uncommon to see in times of need the often life-saving technique of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Returning to scripture John the Evangelist opens his gospel with “the word of God made flesh” prologue. This prologue is expounded throughout his gospel, and not more-so than in the 6th chapter from where we get this weeks gospel. Jesus equates himself as the bread come down from heaven – the manna given by God in the desert. Jesus becomes the Word made flesh, the word of God which comes from his mouth, that which we must eat to live.

We need everything that comes from the mouth of God to live: words come from the mouth: Jesus is the word of God made flesh: Jesus gives us his flesh to eat: it is his flesh which we must eat to gain eternal life: gaining eternal life he lives in us and we in him. This unifies us in Christ, a true communion.

Coming from the mouth of God and us receiving God in our mouths Jesus brings the gift of life to us. Through him we are revived in a deadly environment – and there are quite a few dangers in the water. He is the one who watches over us, who revives us, who volunteers himself for us. He freely gives us himself, yes, but we must freely receive him; mouth to mouth.

Triune Love: a reflection on this week’s gospel (John 3:16-18)

If you were to see yourself though the eyes of God, what would you see? Do you see an awful sinner in need condemning, something like a criminal who has done wrong and is in need of a penalty? Or do you see a child of God who, through loving eyes, can do no wrong? Or perhaps something else?

This weekend we get an idea of why God has sent his Son, a glimpse rarely seen so explicitly in scripture: not to condemn, but to redeem. The hinge on which condemnation and redemption pivots is faith. Faith opens us up to this redemption.

Though opened up, faith is just the start, not the be all and end all. A fundamental start, absolutely, but it cannot remain there. We cannot expect to do an “altar call” or profess the faith and “it” be done. Many other scripture verses reflect this. However today’s scripture sets everything else in motion. We read about why God has done what he has done.

If you see yourself as a condemned criminal through the eyes of God it is through faith in his Son Jesus which frees you, which enables you to have eternal life.

Imagine yourself hauled into a courtroom accused of *insert your favourite sin*. You stand and face your charges. As they are read out in front of the courtroom you are guilt ridden to paralyzation, frozen under the sheer weight of unquestionable shame. Defenselessly condemned the heavy sentence is cast down.

Right at that moment someone stands and offers to take the sentence upon himself. But do you know him? This is his one question for you – “Do you know who I am?” Here is our chance to profess and prove our faith in Jesus. But the work is done: the evidence has already been presented. How do you respond?

This is how Jesus redeems us; he takes the punishment of your sin upon himself. But only if you believe in him – if you have faith.

The beauty about this metaphoric scenario is that it smoothly runs well some areas but limps in others. One limp is the timing. The juridical scene (easily seen as at our point of death) is actually now. We are given the final end now to make our choices today. If we have faith now, everlasting life is already available to us now rather than in some future time. Eternal life starts now, but it demands more. Now is our chance to build up the evidence to submit at the point of death. Faith starts now, but demands more.

The alternative is also open – no one is required to have faith; faith remains, and always will be, an open invitation. We can chose to accept that faith or chose not to accept it. God is a perfect gentleman like that – he doesn’t force himself on anyone but invites all.

All of this – the offer of faith, the following redemption, the forgiveness of sin – all of this comes from Gods love for us. A love which is expressed in God sending his son; a love to which we respond in the Spirit of faith. This scripture opens up not only a glimpse of the triune God, but invites us to respond and if we adequately respond our reward is eternal life, as of now. It is a sharing of God himself so that we may have a share of him. He is love, and he wants us to live in that triune love.

May I respond more in love than in apathy or distain. May I live the rest of my life in the love of the triune God.

Come Holy Spirit: a reflection on Pentecost

Come Holy Spirit!
We still abide in a darkened place in need of your light.
Enflame us with your presence so that we may reflect your radiance.

Come Holy Spirit!
We are in need but there is isolation, division and hate in the world.
May your living water be the source of all nourishment quenching the thirsts of all people.

Come Holy Spirit!
We still seek comfort.
May your breath of life give us the courage to encounter the world anew.