JESUS ESTABLISHED HIS CHURCH ON ST. PETER AS ITS FOUNDATION.
- GOSPEL READING: Mt 16:13–19
- THE CHURCH OF CHRIST RISES ON THE FIRM FOUNDATION OF PETER’S FAITH (St. Leo the Great)
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.”
- COMMENTARY OF SCOTT HAHN: Petros (Gk.): A masculine noun meaning “rock” or “stone“. Although a common word in Greek, there is no evidence that Peter was ever a proper name before Jesus renamed Simon. This accentuates the symbolism of the name: Simon is himself the rock upon which Jesus builds the Church.
- Further NT evidence suggests that Jesus’ words to Peter were originally spoken in Aramaic. In this language, the word kepha is the equivalent of Peter and denotes a “sizeable rock”—one suitable as a building foundation.
- This Aramaic name is preserved as “Cephas” 9 times in the NT (Jn 1:42; 1 Cor 1:12; 15:5; Gal 1:18; 2:9, etc.). At another level, Simon’s name change recalls the OT episodes where God renamed Abram as Abraham (Gen 17:5) and Jacob as Israel (Gen 32:28).
- Peter now stands in this biblical tradition where new names signify new God-given roles in salvation history. In Peter’s case, Jesus designates him the foundation stone of the New Covenant Church. Just as the Temples of the OT were built upon a great stone (1 Kings 5:17; Ezra 3:10), so Jesus builds his NT Church upon the foundational rock of Peter (cf. Eph 2:20; Rev 21:14).
Out of the whole world one man, Peter, is chosen to preside at the calling of all nations, and to be set over all the apostles and all the fathers of the Church. Though there are in God’s people many shepherds, Peter is thus appointed to rule in his own person those whom Christ also rules as the original ruler. Beloved, how great and wonderful is this sharing of his power that God in his goodness has given to this man. Whatever Christ has willed to be shared in common by Peter and the other leaders of the Church, it is only through Peter that he has given to others what he has not refused to bestow on them.
The Lord now asks the apostles as a whole what men think of him. As long as they are recounting the uncertainty born of human ignorance, their reply is always the same.
But when he presses the disciples to say what they think themselves, the first to confess his faith in the Lord is the one who is first in rank among the apostles.
Peter says: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replies: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” You are blessed, he means, because my Father has taught you. You have not been deceived by earthly opinion, but have been enlightened by inspiration from heaven. It was not flesh and blood that pointed me out to you, but the one whose only-begotten Son I am.
He continues: And I say to you. In other words, as my Father has revealed to you my godhead, so I in my turn make known to you your pre-eminence. You are Peter:though I am the inviolable rock, the cornerstone that makes both one, the foundation apart from which no one can lay any other, yet you also are a rock, for you are given solidity by my strength, so that which is my very own because of my power is common between us through your participation.
And upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. On this strong foundation, he says, I will build an everlasting temple. The great height of my Church, which is to penetrate the heavens, shall rise on the firm foundation of this faith.
The gates of hell shall not silence this confession of faith; the chains of death shall not bind it. Its words are the words of life. As they lift up to heaven those who profess them, so they send down to hell those who contradict them.
Blessed Peter is therefore told: To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth is also bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven.
The authority vested in this power passed also to the other apostles, and the institution established by this decree has been continued in all the leaders of the Church. But it is not without good reason that what is bestowed on all is entrusted to one. For Peter received it separately in trust because he is the prototype set before all the rulers of the Church.
℟. Before I called you away from your boat, Simon Peter, I knew you for my own; I have appointed you leader of my people.* I have delivered to you the keys of the kingdom.
℣. Whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.* I have delivered to you the keys of the kingdom.
Grant, we pray, almighty God, that no tempests may disturb us, for you have set us fast on the rock of the Apostle Peter’s confession of faith. Through our Lord.