In Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, “Romeo and Juliet,” Juliet asks a question that endures through the ages. Swimming in a sea of emotions and hormones and realizing that the man she loves is a member of a rival family, love-struck Juliet asks, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
The subtext here is that names are meaningless. Certainly, getting involved in a hasty relationship is worth more than potential family turmoil and a premature death, right?
The Gospels might bear a counter-witness. When Jesus asked his disciples in Matthew 16, “who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter was the only one to respond with the correct answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
This moment of divine clarity is where Simon Peter, one of the first disciples called to follow Jesus, became an icon of the fledgling movement of Jesus. It was a statement of faith more than a statement of fact, and that faith was the rock upon Jesus would build his church.
What I appreciate the most about Simon Peter was not his rockiness, but his softness, his porousness, and his jaggedness. He was brash. He was impatient. He was rude. He was so incredibly human. One of my favorite stories involving Simon Peter has nothing to do with the time he had great faith, but the time he could’ve used a great deal more of it.
Just two chapters earlier, in Matthew 14, the Evangelist captures the story of Peter stepping out into the stormy sea. He is so sure of himself. He walks forward on the white-crested waves until he takes his eyes off Jesus and begins to look at the mess he’d gotten himself. As he sinks, Jesus reaches forth his hand to save him. “You of little faith,” Jesus says. “Why did you doubt?”
Jesus builds his church on the confession of a man with a sketchy record when it comes to firm faith. Sure, in that moment, Peter was so sure that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, but in just a few chapters, he would deny he even know Jesus. This solid rock appears to show a few cracks.
But Jesus built the Church on that rock anyway. It might be true that the rhythm of faith and doubt are simply two sides of the same coin of relationship with Jesus. There are times where we experience something of the divine that makes our faith seem so firm. Other times, it tends to feel less secure. Either way, when we fail to believe in ourselves, it is comforting to know that Jesus still believes in us. As a popular maxim suggests, those cracks in our faith might just be how the light of Christ gets in to invite us into deeper awareness and more glorious revelation.
The Confession of Saint Peter is a snapshot in the life of an Apostle who would have many more ups and downs before finally being crucified upside down in Rome. It reveals a truth: that in the eyes of Christ, we are never identified by the worst thing we have ever done; rather, Jesus knows us as the best we can possibly be.
A Prayer for Today
Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
How are you like and unlike Peter?