Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 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.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. Matthew 16:13-20
You are Peter.
You are the rock. The rock upon which I will build my church.
There is a lot of wordplay going on here.
First off, “Peter” has been anything but a “rock” up to this point. He’s been a rockhead, maybe. But he’s done a bunch of stupid things already with more to come.
The declaration of that Simon will become the rock is a sign of Jesus’ intentions. I’m building something. You can’t see it yet. Moreover, I’m going to build it with the most unlikely of source material.
People like Simon.
Simon, the lowly fisherman, who likely has to give over much of what he catches to be used to feed the imperial war machine of Rome. Simon, the son of a fisherman, another nobody.
This Simon will be the foundation of what Jesus is building.
And what is that, exactly?
An ekklesia, naturally.
The wordplay again is important, Peter is rock to build upon and looking at that through the modern lens, we can easily fall into our now traditional understanding of ekklesia (church) as building.
But ekklesia in the ancient Greek world meant “assembly” the gathering of the people who came together out in the public to do important work on behalf of all. The word literally means “called out”… the people summoned from their homes to gather to make the republic work.
Peter is the foundation of a new ekklesia, a new gathering of people who will leave their homes to work for the good of the people. A new democratic system is being formed that will benefit all, not just the rich and powerful. It will be a gathering of people who look like Peter, lowly nobodies whose only real advantage in this world is recognizing something special in the person of Jesus.
Some times I look at what the church has become and I think, “this isn’t the thing that Jesus is building… the thing for which Peter was the groundwork”. I more often see a group of people clustered by political preferences and gathered for their own comfort.
The thing that Jesus is building is a gathering of people, mostly those on the lower rungs of the social ladder, brought together for mutual love and to work for the good of the community of which they are a part. It is an assembly of people which the defenses of hell can’t stand against because the offensive of love is too overwhelming. It is a militant gathering of peacemakers, forgivers, reconcilers, and truth tellers.
It is a revolution, made of flawed, broken people whose only redeeming factor is the knowledge that they are loved and made to love.