Lectio Divina: St. Peter and St. Paul
Jesus said to Peter, "You are the Rock!"
The Rock of support and of scandal
1. Opening prayer
“Lord Jesus, send Your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind with which You read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus.
In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, You helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of Your suffering and death. Thus, the cross which had seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the resurrection and source of new life.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to Your voice in creation, in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the power of Your resurrection and witness to others that You are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of You, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.”
a) A key to the reading:
The liturgical text of the feast of Saints Peter and Paul is taken from the Gospel of Matthew: 16:13-19. In our commentary we also include verses 20 -23, because in the entirety of the text, verses 13 to 23, Jesus turns to Peter and twice calls him "rock". Once he calls him the foundation stone (Mt 16:18) and once the rock of scandal (Mt 16:23). Both statements complement each other. While reading the text, it is good to pay attention to Peter's attitude and to the solemn words that Jesus addresses to him on two occasions.
b) A division of the text to help with the reading:
13-14: Jesus wishes to know what people think of him.
15-16: Jesus asks the disciples and Peter makes his confession: "You are the Christ, the Son of God!"
17-20: Then we have Jesus' solemn reply to Peter (a key phrase for today's feast).
21-22: Jesus explains the meaning of Messiah, but Peter reacts and refuses to accept.
22-23: Jesus' solemn reply to Peter.
c) The text:
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) Today there are many who want to put themselves before Jesus and His message. They come with an attitude that distorts His words, often for personal gain. Can you see and identify some of them? What rebuke might they be deserving of?
b) Who do the people think Jesus is? Who do Peter and the disciples think Jesus is?
c) There can be many ways to deny Jesus, for instance, to be embarrassed to discuss such things in “polite company”. Have I ever denied Jesus?
d) Peter is rock in two ways: what are they?
e) What kind of rock is our community?
f) In the text we find several opinions as to who Jesus is and several ways of presenting the faith. Today too, there are several opinions as to who Jesus is. Which opinions does our community know? What kind of mission does that imply for us?
5. A key to the reading
to enter deeper into the theme.
i) The context:
In the narrative parts of his Gospel, Matthew follows the sequence of Mark's Gospel. However, he also quotes a source known to him and Luke. Rarely does he give information that is solely his, as in today's Gospel. This text and the dialogue between Jesus and Peter is interpreted variously, even in opposite directions in the various Christian churches. In the Catholic Church, this text forms the basis for the primacy of Peter. Without diminishing in any way the importance of this text, it might be good to situate it in the context of Matthew's Gospel, where elsewhere the qualities ascribed to Peter are also attributed to other people. They do not belong exclusively to Peter.
ii) Commentary on the text:
a) Matthew 16:13-16 The opinions of the people and those of the disciples concerning Jesus.
Jesus wishes to know what people think of Him. The answers are quite varied: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. When Jesus asks the disciples' opinion, Peter replies in their name: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" Peter's reply is not new. On a previous occasion, when Jesus walked on the water, the other disciples had made a similar profession of faith: "Truly You are the Son of God!" (Mt 14:33). This is an acknowledgment that in Jesus the prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled. In John's Gospel, Martha makes the same profession of faith: "You are the Christ, the Son of God who is come into the world" (Jn 11:27).
b) Matthew 16:17 Jesus' reply to Peter: Blessed are you, Peter!
Jesus proclaims Peter "blessed" because he has been given a revelation from the Father. Jesus' reply is not new. On a previous occasion, Jesus had made the same proclamation of blessedness to the disciples because they were hearing and seeing that which no one else knew before (Mt 13:16), and He praised the Father because He had revealed the Son to little ones and not to the learned (Mt 11:25). Peter is one of the little ones to whom the Father reveals Himself. The perception that God is present in Jesus does not "come from flesh and blood", it is not the result of study or merit of human effort, but a gift that God gives to whom He pleases.
c) Matthew 16:18-20 Peter's qualifications: Being foundation stone and taking possession of the keys of the Kingdom.
1. Being Rock: Peter has to be rock, that is, he has to be a strong foundation for the Church, so that she may stand up to the assaults of the gates of hell. Through these words addressed by Jesus to Peter, Matthew encourages the suffering and persecuted communities in Syria and Palestine, who saw in Peter the leadership that had marked them from the beginning. In spite of being weak and persecuted, they had a solid foundation, guaranteed by the words of Jesus. In those days, the communities cultivated a very strong sentimental tie with the leaders who had established them. Thus, the communities of Syria and Palestine cultivated their relationship with the person of Peter; those of Greece with the person of Paul; some communities in Asia with the person of the beloved disciple and others with the person of John of the Apocalypse. Identifying themselves with the leader of their origin helped them to grow better in their identity and spirituality. But this also gave rise to conflict as in the case of the community of Corinth (1Cor 1:11-12). Even today, there are Christian communities, ecclesial communities, who follow a particular leader and identify with him or her.
Being rock as foundation of the faith, recalls to mind the word of God to the people in exile in Babylonia: "Listen to me, you who pursue justice, who seek the Lord; look to the rock from which you were hewn, to the pit from which you were quarried; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sara, who gave you birth; when he was but one, I called him, I blessed him and made him many" (Is 51:1-2). When applied to Peter, this quality of foundation stone points to a new beginning for the people of God.
2. The keys of the Kingdom: Peter receives the keys of the Kingdom to bind and to loose, that is, to reconcile people with God. The same power of binding and loosing is given to the communities (Mt 18:8) and to the disciples (Jn 20:23). One of the points on which the Gospel of Matthew insists is reconciliation and pardon (Mt 5:7,23-24,38-42,44-48; 6:14-15; 18:15-35). The reality is that in the 80s and 90s, there were many tensions and divisions within families in the communities in Syria because of faith in Jesus. Some accepted Him as Messiah whereas others did not, and this was the source of many contrasting views and conflicts. Matthew insists on reconciliation. Reconciliation kept on being one of the most important tasks of coordinators of the communities. Like Peter they must bind and loose, that is, work so as to bring about reconciliation, mutual acceptance, and build up true fraternity.
3. The Church: the word Church, in Greek, ekklesia, is found 105 times in the New Testament, almost always in the Acts and the Epistles. We find the word only three times in the Gospels and only in Matthew. The word means "a called assembly" or "chosen assembly". The word applies to the people gathered, called by the Word of God, a people that seeks to live the message of the Kingdom brought by Jesus. The Church is not the Kingdom, but an instrument and a sign of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is greater. In the Church, the community, all must see or should see what happens when a group of people allows God to rule and take possession of their life.
d) Matthew 16:21-22 Jesus completes what is lacking in Peter's reply, and Peter reacts by not accepting.
Peter had confessed: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" In keeping with the prevailing ideology of the time, he imagined a glorious Messiah. Jesus corrects him: "It is necessary that the Messiah suffer and be killed in Jerusalem". With the words "it is necessary", He says that suffering had been foreseen in the prophecies (Is 53:2-8). If the disciples accept Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, then they must accept Him also as the Servant Messiah who must die. Not just the triumph of glory but also the way of the cross! But Peter will not accept Jesus' correction and tries to change His mind.
e) Matthew 16:23 Jesus' reply to Peter: rock of scandal.
Jesus' reply is surprising: "Get behind me, Satan, you are a scandal to me, for you do not mind the things of God, but those of men!” Satan is the one who leads us away from the path marked out for us by God. Jesus literally says: "Get behind me!" (in Latin, vada retro!). Peter wanted to steer and point the way. Jesus says: "Get behind me!" Jesus, not Peter, is the one who points the way and sets the rhythm. The disciple must follow the master. He must live in constant conversion. Jesus' word was also a message to all those who led the communities. They must "follow" Jesus and they may not go before as Peter wished to do. It is not only they who are able to point the way or the manner. On the contrary, like Peter, instead of being a rock of support, they can become rock of scandal, a stumbling block. Such were some leaders of the communities at the time of Matthew. There were ambiguities. The same may happen among us today.
iii) A further explanation of the Gospels concerning Peter:
A portrait of St. Peter.
Peter was transformed from fisherman of fish to fisherman of men (Mk 1:7). He was married (Mk 1:30). He was a good man and very human. He tended naturally to a role of leadership among the twelve disciples of Jesus. Jesus respected this natural quality and made Peter the leader of His first community (Jn 21:17). Before joining Jesus' community, Peter's name was Simon bar Jona (Mt 16:17), Simon son of Jonah. Jesus nicknamed him Cephas or Rock, and this then became Peter (Lk 6:14).
By nature, Peter could have been anything but rock. He was courageous in speech, but at the hour of danger he fell victim to fear and fled. For instance, when Jesus came walking on the water, Peter asked: "Jesus, can I too come to you on the water?" Jesus replied: "Come, Peter!" Peter then went out of the boat and started walking on the water. But when a bigger wave came along, he was afraid and began to sink. He then cried out: "Save me, Lord!" Jesus took hold of him and saved him (Mt 14:28-31). At the last supper, Peter said to Jesus: "I shall never deny you, Lord!" (Mk 14:31); yet a few hours later, in the palace of the high priest, in front of a servant girl, when Jesus had already been arrested, Peter denied Jesus, swearing that he had no connection with Him (Mk 14:66-72). In the garden of olives, when Jesus had been arrested, he even used his word (Jn 18:10), but then fled, leaving Jesus alone (Mk 14:50). Peter was not naturally rock! And yet the weak and human Peter, so like us, did become rock because Jesus had prayed for him: "Peter, I have prayed for you so that your faith may not fail; and, when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren" (Lk 22:31-32). That is why Jesus was able to say: "You are Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church" (Mt 16:18). Jesus helped him to become rock. After the resurrection, in Galilee, Jesus appeared to Peter and asked him twice: "Peter, do you love Me?" And Peter replied twice: "Lord, you know that I love you" (Jn 21:15,16). When Jesus put the same question to him the third time, Peter was hurt. He must have remembered that he had denied Him three times. So he answered: "Lord, you know all things! You know that I love you!" It was then that Jesus entrusted to him the care of the sheep: "Peter, feed My sheep!" (Jn 21:17). With Jesus' help, the strength of the rock grew in Peter and He revealed Himself on the day of Pentecost. On that day, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples, Peter opened the doors of the upper room where they were all gathered behind closed doors for fear of the Jews (Jn 20:19), and, infused with courage, began to announce the Good News of Jesus to the people (Acts 2:14-40). From then on he never stopped! On account of this courageous proclamation of the resurrection, he was arrested (Acts 4:3). During the interrogation he was forbidden to announce the good news (Acts 4:18), but Peter did not obey the prohibition. He said: "We must obey God rather then man!" (Acts 4:19; 5:29). He was arrested again (Acts 5:18,26). He was scourged (Acts 5:40). But he said: "Thank you very much. But we shall go on!" (cf. Acts 5:42).
Tradition tells us that at the end of his life, when he was in Rome, Peter had another moment of fear. But then he went back, was arrested and condemned to death on the cross. However, he asked that he might be crucified with his head down. He thought that he was not worthy to die in the same way as his master, Jesus. Peter was true to himself and to Jesus to the very end.
6. Psalm 103 (102)
Thanksgiving: Bless the Lord, O my soul;
and all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all His benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagles.
The Lord works vindication
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will He keep His anger for ever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor requite us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does He remove our transgressions from us.
As a father pities his children,
so the Lord pities those who fear Him.
For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord
is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear Him,
and His righteousness to children's children,
to those who keep His covenant
and remember to do His commandments.
The Lord has established His throne in the heavens,
and His kingdom rules over all.
Bless the Lord, O you His angels,
you mighty ones who do His word,
hearkening to the voice of His word!
Bless the Lord, all His hosts,
his ministers that do His will!
Bless the Lord, all His works,
in all places of His dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank You for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May Your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which Your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, Your mother, not only listen the Word but also practice it. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.