Matthew 16. 13-20
Who do you say that I am? That’s the question that Jesus asks Simon. And it’s an important question – because identity matters.
If I asked you the same question, I imagine that many of you would reply ‘You are the Rector’. But that’s only because you know me primarily in this role, at this time in my life. In other places, and in other times, I’ve been a youth worker, a housing officer, and a charity chief executive. I’ve been a government advisor and a shop-floor salesman of microwaves and stereos. I’ve been a passport writer, a singer, a piano-player and a trumpeter. I’ve been a student, and a roller-skate rink attendant. I’ve been an ice-cream seller, a burger-flipper and a farm labourer. I still am a priest, and a deacon, and a Canon, a teacher, and a social entrepreneur.
In my private life, I have been (and am) many things too. I’m a husband, and a son. I’m a brother, an uncle and a best friend. Now I’m a grandad.
But there are other things about my identity which could be used to describe me. I’m tall. I’m big. I’m hairy around the chin. I’m Caucasian (or white), I’m straight. I’m middle aged - just, and I’m a cardiac patient.
All of these words and all of these descriptions are summed up in the one word…Tom. But all these words, all these descriptions, only scratch at the surface of who I really am. Because I know the secret ‘me’. I know the internal conflicts I live with. I know the thoughts that rage through my monkey mind. I know the temptations I have to fight. I know the things that give me pleasure, and the things that stress me out. They are all part of me too. They are what I’d have to try to describe if you really wanted to understand who I am.
SO imagine, the panic that must have crossed Simon’s mind when Jesus asked him the same question! ‘Who do you say that I am?’ What answer could Peter give which would sum up succinctly all that he already knew about this man. He could have said, ‘You’re Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary and Joseph the carpenter. You’re the brother of James and Joses and your other siblings. You’re the teacher, the wanderer, the story-teller of our time. You’re the preacher, the prophet, the man of wisdom’. But Simon used none of these descriptions of Jesus.
‘You are the Messiah. The son of the living God’.
Messiah – Saviour. The one whose coming has been long-expected. The one who would offer the path of salvation to the Jews and to the whole world. And the very son of God.
Jesus was delighted. I imagine him throwing back his head and laughing! ‘Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah! You’ve got it! You’ve understood the essence of who I am. And that’s a revelation that could only have come from God!’.
‘And you, Simon, you are a rock! That’s what I’m going to call you from now on…Rocky. Petros. Peter. Because you, with all your mistakes and gaffs, are open to what God teaches you. And it’s on that kind of openness, and attentiveness to God that I’m going to build my church. Alright? Rocky!’
You see, Simon wasn’t all that his description said he was. Any more than the word Messiah described all that Jesus was. It was a nickname. An epithet. A way of getting a handle on Simon Peter. It said nothing about his failures. Nothing about the times he completely got things wrong, like denying Christ, or lopping off the ear of a High Priest’s guard. Or that time when he thought he should build some shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah on the mountain.
Simon, as I said a week or two ago, is ‘everyman’. He’s you and me. With all his failures, he sticks straight to the path of faith. He is determined, and he wants with all his heart to follow where Jesus leads.
But his nickname doesn’t say all there is to say. Nor does ‘Messiah’ say all there is to say about Jesus. Nor does ‘Rector’ say all there is to say about me.
It’s supposed to be a Native American saying, that you should never criticise another, until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Simon Peter had walked more than a mile in Jesus’ shoes. He’d lived alongside him, got to know him, heard him, listened to him – and at the end of that experience, he found that he could after all, describe him in a single, powerful adjective: Messiah.
Jesus had walked a mile or two in Simon’s shoes too. He’d sat with him, listened to him, laughed with him, eaten with him, watched him fail, watched him grow. And at the end of all that, he had a an adjective – a nickname – for Simon too. Rocky! He was going to call him Rocky.
Here’s a final question to ponder…
How do you think others would describe you? What nickname would you like be given by someone who has walked a mile in your shoes with you? Gentle one? Courageous one? Prayerful one? Faithful one? Generous one? Resourceful one?
How would you like to be summed up in one word?
And how can you live in such a way, that such a nickname becomes yours?