St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Confession of Peter, 2015

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 Today is the feast of the Confession of Peter. The feast refers to an episode in the New Testament in which the Apostle Peter proclaims or confesses Jesus to be Christ - the Messiah. In a sense we can describe this feast not as one of Peter, but as one of the Lord, because the saint is pointing us to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. 
 
The confession is described in the three Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. In this episode, Jesus not only accepts the titles Christ and Son of God, but declares the confession a divine revelation. Jesus said that his Father in Heaven had revealed it to Peter, and thus Jesus unequivocally declared himself to be both Christ and the Son of God.
 
In today’s lection Jesus also selects Peter as the leader of the Apostles, and states: "Upon this rock I will build my church".
 
In the New Testament, this pericope, or story, and the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus which follows it appear towards the middle of the Gospel narrative and jointly mark the beginnings of the gradual disclosure of the identity of Jesus to his disciples. During this season of Epiphany the focus of the church is upon the disclosure of Jesus. We have seen since the feast of the Epiphany on the 6th January, different accounts of Jesus being disclosed. 
 
The setting of this disclosure is near Caesarea Philippi in northern Palestine. Jesus had taken his disciples northward from predominantly Jewish territory, presumably to escape the crowds and spend time privately with his disciples. They had journeyed some forty kilometres (and five hundred metres uphill) from the Lake of Galilee to the source of the Jordan near the ancient city of Dan, the northern boundary of ancient Israel. The recently renamed Caesarea Philippi was as pagan a territory as one could find. It was famous for its grotto where people worshipped the Greek god Pan; its earlier name Paneas persists even in its modern Arabic name, Baneas. This story is at the beginning of the final journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, which ends in the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. 
 
Peter's Confession begins as a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples in all three Synoptic Gospels. Jesus begins to ask about the current opinions about himself among "the multitudes", asking: "Who do the multitudes say that I am?" The disciples provide a variety of the common hypotheses at the time, ranging from John the Baptist to Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. After asking about the views of "the multitudes", Jesus asks his disciples about their own opinion: "But who do you say that I am?" Only Simon Peter answers him: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God".
Jesus said that Peter would be blessed because he did not receive his revelation from man, literally "flesh and blood", which in Scripture is a common expression for "mortals" or "humans". Peter's understanding of Jesus' identity came by divine revelation. This revelation of Jesus' identity was foundational for God's purposes in history. A large part of the blessing Peter would receive was to be given the leadership of the εκκλεσια - the assembly, or church which Jesus would build.
Jesus then plays on Simon's nickname, Peter, which would be roughly the English "Rocky": Peter is rocky, and on this rock Jesus would build his church. Scholars have debated precisely what Jesus meant by rock. Protestants, following the thoughts of S Augustine and Luther, have sometimes contended that the rock in this passage is only Jesus. But by Jesus' day the Greek terms Πετρος (Peter) and πετρα (rock) were interchangeable, and the original Aramaic form of Peter's nickname that Jesus probably used  - kephas - means simply "rock". Further, Jesus does not say, "You are Peter, but on this rock I will build my church"; he says, “And on this rock I will build my church”. Jesus' teaching is the ultimate foundation for our lives but here Peter functions as the foundation rock, much like the apostles and prophets do in Ephesians 2:20-21, which reads: “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.” 
 
Christ declared that he was going to build his church on the apostles; they would proclaim the message of Christ, record it in Scripture, and establish the Church throughout the known world. Everything we do today is based on the work and the teachings of the apostles, who were commissioned by Christ and inspired by the Spirit, under the leadership of Peter, the rock.
 
As we celebrate the confession of Peter, so we celebrate the church. Through the two millennia of her history the church has been wonderful, she has been inspiring, she has been frustrating, she has been sinful. Despite all this she is the tool used by God through which we find our salvation.
 
May the God found in the church continue to bless you in the days ahead.
 
 

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