When Simon Bar-Jona confessed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Jesus responded, “You are Peter, and on this rock will I build my church.” This rough fisherman and his brother Andrew were the first disciples called by Jesus. Peter figures prominently in the Gospel accounts, often stumbling, impetuous, intense, and uncouth. It was Peter who attempted to walk on the sea, and began to sink; it was Peter who impulsively wished to build three tabernacles on the mountain of the Transfiguration; it was Peter who, just before the crucifixion, three times denied knowing his Lord.
But it was also Peter who, after Pentecost, risked his life to do the Lord’s work, speaking boldly of his faith in Jesus. It was also Peter, the Rock, whose strength and courage helped the young Church in its questioning about the mission beyond the Jewish community. Opposed at first to the baptism of Gentiles without their first submitting to circumcision, he had the humility to admit a change of heart, and to baptize the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household. Even after this, Peter had a continuing struggle with his Jewish conservatism; for Paul, writing to the Galatians, rebukes him for giving way to the demands of some Jewish Christians (the “Judaizers”) to dissociate himself from table fellowship with Gentile Christians.
Though the New Testament makes no mention of it, the tradition connecting Peter with Rome is early and virtually certain. According to tradition, Peter suffered martyrdom during the persecution under Nero. He is said to have been crucified head downwards, because he told his executioners that he was not worthy to be crucified as his Lord was.
As we watch Peter struggle with himself, often stumble, love his Lord and deny him, speak rashly and act impetuously, his life reminds us that our Lord did not come to save the godly and strong but the save the weak and the sinful. Simon, an ordinary human being, was transformed by the Holy Spirit into the “Rock”, and became the leader of the infant Church.
- Adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts
Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The complete propers for The Confession of Saint Peter are published at the Lectionary Page.
The icon is a fragment from a 13th century Roman fresco.