Our story began with the adversaries of Jesus asking for a sign and Jesus promising them the sign of Jonah. Immediately after he warns the disciples about the “yeast” of his adversaries. The disciples realized that they had neglected bringing some bread for the long trip across the lake but they soon understood that Jesus is talking about something else: the spiritual contamination that comes from the doctrines of his adversaries. What was that?
Pharisees and Sadducees differed in their belief. Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead but the Sadducees did not. Both believed in an explosive mix of liberation politics and religion (sounds familiar?) but had a number of disagreements that sometimes turned violent. Was it licit to have an Idumean king? Were Roman taxes legal according to Mosaic Law? Should the nation revolt against the Romans as the Maccabees revolted against the Greeks almost two centuries before? Did Israel have a universal destiny to rule the world in the promised Kingdom of David? and much more.
All of those disagreements had evolved into collections of doctrines. All of them, Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes, etc. each one had a doctrine they adhered to. We hear echoes of those convictions in the questions they ask Jesus throughout the Gospel narrative. Those who were not part of a religious party held their own mix of ideas. Peter and the disciples were no exception to the rule. They were affected by the Roman occupation and the various internal factions trying to assert their power over the people. Galileans were the most powerless: frontier people inhabiting a rugged and unforgiving land, Galilee of the Gentiles where Jews, Greeks, Romans, and other racial groups lived and worked together in a precarious social order.
Jesus chose to live among them in Nazareth and most of his disciples came from that region, including Simon the Fisherman.
‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region under the shadow of death light has dawned.’ (Matthew 4:15-16; Isaiah 9:1-2)
Everything that Jesus does has a meaning. The Gospels form a tapestry of intricate actions, words, and images that invite us to meditate and learn but at the same time conceal and reveal the majestic intelligence that put it all together. Those who are used to read the great authors of mankind soon realize that no human intellect could have assembled Scripture, not in a million years. We are reading the writing of men inspired by the Holy Spirit, the work of divine wit.
We are going to concentrate now in the cycle of Peter. In this short series of posts we have followed Peter from the day he encountered Jesus by the lake. We haven’t covered every detail —that would require more time— but just a few passages, enough to set a few road markers along the life of the Fisherman.
Now we have reached the time when Jesus finally reveals Peter’s destiny. The Fisherman has been prepared for a mission that runs parallel to the universal destiny of Israel. Little did the enemies of Jesus imagine that they were standing in front of the true Messiah, the eternal King of Israel and his Royal Steward, Simon Peter. No one, not even the most scholarly minds in Judea could have imagined the plans of God to conquer the Roman Empire and then the world. They could not even get close to figure the plan out for the same reasons that the disciples confused the spiritual leaven with ordinary leaven. The wise men of Judea have their eyes focused in the material world, forgetting that spiritual realities command the material world. They never understood the riddle presented to them by God in Isaiah 55. Pray and meditate that whole chapter if you have the time.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. […] For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:2-3; 8-9)
A prophetic riddle, a sign, a destiny
When Jesus anointed Simon Peter, the Fisherman received two main titles. One as Royal Steward of the house of Israel, and the other as Vicar of Christ the Eternal High Priest.
- “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church
- and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
- I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
In the first part of the statement the name of Simon is changed to Peter in Aramaic, Kepha. That entails a change in the character of the man. The same action was taken with Abraham, the sterile older man who walked with God and had unparalleled faith in Him. Abram, the man who could not have a son became the father of nations Abraham by the addition of the letter “heh” to his name. The sound of that letter is almost the same as the first syllable in the English word heritage. It is also present in the Hebrew word ר֫וּחַ ruah’, meaning ‘wind’ , ‘spirit’ or ‘breath’ and also used to signify the creative breath of the divinity. (Genesis 1:2) Simon, the fisherman who could not find fish is made into a fisher of men who will bring souls to Christ through history in the same manner that Abram the man who could not engender a son was made into Abraham, the father of nations.
Simon becomes —by the power of God— Peter the Rock, a steady cornerstone like Christ the Rock and rejected in the same manner:
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes.” (Matthew 21:42-44)
In the second part of the statement, Peter is given his marching orders. He will fight to prevail over the gates of Hell, to enter the realm of the dead and plunder its treasure. The Resurrection will make that possible not only to bring back to life the souls of the just by the merits of the Cross of Christ, but also to forgive and clean the souls of those still alive but condemned to death by sin. The dominion of Pan upon the faithful over the basest instincts of men will be rendered powerless by the sacraments. Remember the chapel or temple of the pagan god Pan was a short distance from the place were Jesus took the disciples for this momentous revelation.
In the third part of the statement, Jesus promises the keys to bind and unbind, to open and close. That includes the magisterial authority prophesied by Isaiah in the person of Eliakim, the loyal steward of the royal house who replaces the self-serving Shebna:
“On that day I will call my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah, and will clothe him with your robe and bind your sash on him. I will commit your authority to his hand, and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.” (Isaiah 22:20-22, see also Isaiah 22:15-25)
Here Kepha will replace the Roman appointed High Priest Kaiaphas as the old order of the Mosaic Law gives way to the new order of Christ, and the Christian Church emerges as the universal destiny of Israel.
This new power is effectively connecting the will of Christ to the will of his Vicar. Peter sacrifices part of his human freedom to become a true and faithful servant of Christ. When his human capacities fail, Christ will sustain him so that his faith won’t falter. Peter will be the stone that will affirm the Church in Christ. (Luke 22:31-34)
Jesus announces his death
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ (Matthew 16:21-23)
Now the disciples are ready to receive the terrible revelation of the Cross. The shock is considerable. Peter still holds on to ‘the yeast’ —those political expectations he has for Christ Jesus— but the Bread from Heaven will not allow himself to be polluted by human doctrines. His battle plan is ready. He will ascend Mount Calvary and conquer the world.
Peter resists the divine plan and earns himself a strong rebuke. This is a very serious matter: those who don’t gather with Jesus, scatter. Those who don’t work for the Kingdom, work for the Enemy. Jesus calls Peter ‘a resister’ and compares him to Satan for holding on to the messianic expectations of the enemies of Christ, the ones that dream of a mere political kingdom and expect the Messiah to be a mere military commander.
One more time, Jesus needs to point at the higher things of Heaven, inaccessible to human thought. That includes the Sign of Jonah.
The Cross and self denial
Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’ (Matthew 16:24-27)
Peter and the disciples are told in riddles in what manner the world must be conquered, and the price that the Master is going to pay to conquer it. The man willing to conquer the world must be also willing to forfeit his soul. One more time we see how the spiritual realities command material realities. The Son of Man will come one day to settle all accounts between God and men. He won’t be commanding an army of sinners but a host of holy angels. He will not come like a conqueror to subject the conquered by force but as a sovereign liberator of the just and as the terrible judge of the wicked. Death will be conquered, it will be rent like the curtain of the Temple. (Matthew 27:50-51) Jesus will open the way to Heaven with the last breath of his earthly life setting in motion the conquest of the world. Peter does not realize it yet but he and his successors are going to be the field commanders in a battle that will last centuries.
To be continued.
The Cycle of Peter
- Made Anew
- The First Great Catch of Fish
- Peter Grows in Faith
- Peter: Sign and Action
- The Fisherman’s Destiny
More articles will follow soon.