Sts. Peter and Paul
Jesus said to Peter, "You are the Rock!"
The Rock of support and of scandal
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with
the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus.
In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to
discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence
and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became
for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in
the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering.
May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus,
may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you
are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this
of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your
a) A key to the reading:
The liturgical text of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul is taken from
the Gospel of Matthew: 16:13-19. In our commentary we also include
verses 20 -23, because in the entirety of the text, verses 13 to 23,
Jesus turns to Peter and twice calls him "rock". Once he
calls him the foundation stone (Mt 16:18) and once the rock of scandal
(Mt 16:23). Both statements complement each other. While reading the
text, it is good to pay attention to Peter's attitude and to the solemn
words that Jesus addresses to him on two occasions.
b) A division of the text to help with the reading:
13-14: Jesus wishes to know what people think of him.
15-16: Jesus asks the disciples and Peter makes his confession: "You are
the Christ, the Son of God!"
17-20: Then we have Jesus' solemn reply to Peter (a key phrase for today's
21-22: Jesus explains the meaning of Messiah, but Peter reacts and refuses
22-23: Jesus' solemn reply to Peter.
c) The text:
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he
asked his disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" 14
And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah,
and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter
replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh
and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and
the powers of death shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys
of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in
heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." 20
Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem
and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be
killed, and on the third day be raised.
22 And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid, Lord!
This shall never happen to you." 23 But he turned and said to Peter, "Get
behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of
God, but of men."
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What most caught my attention?
b) Who do the people think Jesus is? Who do Peter and the disciples think Jesus
c) Who is Jesus for me? Who am I for Jesus?
d) Peter is rock in two ways: what are they?
e) What kind of rock is our community?
f) In the text we find several opinions as to who Jesus is and several ways
of presenting the faith. Today too, there are several opinions as to who Jesus
is. Which opinions does our community know? What kind of mission does that
imply for us?
5. A key to the reading
to enter deeper into the theme.
a) The context:
In the narrative parts of his Gospel, Matthew follows the sequence
of Mark's Gospel. However, he also quotes a source known to him and
Luke. Rarely does he give information that is solely his, as in today's
Gospel. This text and the dialogue between Jesus and Peter is interpreted
variously, even in opposite directions in the various Christian churches.
In the Catholic Church, this text forms the basis for the primacy of
Peter. Without in any way diminishing the importance of this text,
it might be good to situate it in the context of Matthew's Gospel,
where, elsewhere, the qualities ascribed to Peter are also attributed
to other persons. They do not belong exclusively to Peter.
b) Commentary on the text:
i) Matthew: 16: 13-16: The opinions of the people and those of
the disciples concerning Jesus.
Jesus wishes to know what people think of him. The answers are quite varied:
John the Baptist, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. When Jesus asks the disciples'
opinion, Peter replies in their name: "You are the Christ, the Son of
the living God!" Peter's reply is not new. On a previous occasion, when
Jesus walked on the water, the other disciples had made a similar profession
of faith: "Truly you are the Son of God!" (Mt 14:33). This is an
acknowledgement that in Jesus the prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled.
In John's Gospel Martha makes the same profession of faith: "You are the
Christ, the Son of God who is come into the world" (Jn 11:27).
ii) Matthew: 16:17: Jesus' reply to Peter: Blessed are you, Peter!
Jesus proclaims Peter "blessed" because he has been given a revelation
from the Father. Jesus' reply too is not new. On a previous occasion, Jesus
had made the same proclamation of blessedness to the disciples because they
were hearing and seeing that which no one else knew before (Mt 13:16), and
he praised the Father because he had revealed the Son to little ones and not
to the learned (Mt 11:25). Peter is one of the little ones to whom the Father
reveals himself. The perception that God is present in Jesus does not "come
from flesh and blood", it is not the result of study or merit of human
effort, but a gift that God gives to whom he pleases.
iii) Matthew: 16:18-20: Peter's qualifications: Being foundation
stone and taking possession of the keys of the Kingdom.
* Being Rock: Peter has to be rock, that is, he has to
be a strong foundation for the Church, so that she may stand up to the assaults
of the gates of hell. Through these words addressed by Jesus to Peter, Matthew
encourages the suffering and persecuted communities in Syria and Palestine,
who saw in Peter the leadership that had marked them from the beginning. In
spite of being weak and persecuted, they had a solid foundation, guaranteed
by the words of Jesus. In those days, the communities cultivated a very strong
sentimental tie with the leaders who had established them. Thus the communities
of Syria and Palestine cultivated their relationship with the person of Peter;
those of Greece with the person of Paul; some communities in Asia with the
person of the beloved Disciple and others with the person of John of the Apocalypse.
Identifying themselves with the leader of their origin helped them to grow
better in their identity and spirituality. But this could also give rise to
conflict as in the case of the community of Corinth (1Cor 1:11-12).
Being rock as foundation of the faith, recalls to mind the word of God to the
people in exile in Babylonia: "Listen to me, you who pursue justice, who
seek the Lord; look to the rock from which you were hewn, to the pit from which
you were quarried; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sara, who gave you
birth; when he was but one I called him, I blessed him and made him many" (Is
51:1-2). When applied to Peter, this quality of foundation stone points
to a new beginning for the people of God.
* The keys of the Kingdom: Peter receives the keys of the Kingdom to
bind and to loose, that is, to reconcile people with God. The same power of
binding and loosing is given to the communities (Mt 18:8) and to the disciples
(Jn 20:23). One of the points on which the Gospel of Matthew insists is reconciliation
and pardon (Mt 5:7.23-24.38-42.44-48; 6:14-15; 18:15-35). The reality is that
in the 80s and 90s, there were many tensions and divisions within families
in the communities in Syria because of faith in Jesus. Some accepted him as
Messiah whereas others did not, and this was the source of many contrasting
views and conflicts. Matthew insists on reconciliation. Reconciliation kept
on being one of the most important tasks of coordinators of the communities.
Like Peter they must bind and loose, that is, labour so as to bring about reconciliation,
mutual acceptance, and build up true fraternity.
* The Church: the word Church, in Greek ekklesia,
is found 105 times in the New Testament, almost always in the Acts and the
Epistles. We find the word only three times in the Gospels and only in Matthew.
The word means "a called assembly" or "chosen assembly".
The word applies to the people gathered, called by the Word of God, a people
that seeks to live the message of the Kingdom brought by Jesus. The Church
is not the Kingdom, but an instrument and a sign of the Kingdom. The Kingdom
is greater. In the Church, the community, all must see or should see what happens
when a group of people allows God to rule and take possession of its life.
iv) Matthew: 16:21-22: Jesus completes what is lacking in Peter's
reply, and Peter reacts by not accepting.
Peter had confessed: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" In
keeping with the prevailing ideology of the time, he imagined a glorious Messiah.
Jesus corrects him: "It is necessary that the Messiah suffer and be killed
in Jerusalem". With the words "it is necessary", he says that
suffering had been foreseen in the prophecies (Is 53: 2-8). If the disciples
accept Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, then they must accept him also
as the Servant Messiah who must die. Not just the triumph of glory but also the
way of the cross! But Peter will not accept Jesus' correction and tries to
change his mind.
v) Matthew: 16:23: Jesus' reply to Peter: rock of scandal.
Jesus' reply is surprising: "Get behind me, Satan, you are a scandal to
me, for you do not mind the things of God, but those of men!" Satan is
the one who leads us away from the path marked out for us by God. Jesus literally
says: "Get behind me!" (in Latin, vada retro!). Peter wanted
to steer and point the way. Jesus says: "Get behind me!" Jesus not
Peter is the one who points the way and sets the rhythm. The disciple must follow the
master. He must live in constant conversion. Jesus' word was also a message
to all those who led the communities. They must "follow" Jesus and
they may not go before as Peter wished to do. It is not only they who are able
to point the way or the manner. On the contrary, like Peter, instead of
being a rock of support, they can become rock of scandal. Such
were some leaders of the communities at the time of Matthew. There were ambiguities.
The same may happen among us today.
c) A further explanation of the Gospels concerning Peter: A portrait
of St. Peter.
Peter was transformed from fisherman of fish to fisherman of men (Mk
1:7). He was married (Mk 1:30). He was a good man and very human. He
tended naturally to a role of leadership among the twelve disciples
of Jesus. Jesus respected this natural quality and made Peter the leader
of his first community (Jn 21:17). Before joining Jesus' community,
Peter's name was Simon bar Jona (Mt 16:17), Simon son of Jonah.
Jesus nicknamed him Cephas or Rock, and this then became Peter (Lk
By nature, Peter could have been anything but rock. He was courageous
in speech, but at the hour of danger he fell victim to fear and fled. For instance,
when Jesus came walking on the water, Peter asked: "Jesus, can I too come
to you on the water?" Jesus replied: "Come, Peter!" Peter then
went out of the boat and started walking on the water. But when a bigger wave
came along, he got afraid and began to sink. He then cried out: "Save
me, Lord!" Jesus took hold of him and saved him (Mt 14:28-31). At the
last supper, Peter said to Jesus: "I shall never deny you, Lord!" (Mk
14:31); yet a few hours later, in the palace of the high priest, in front of
a servant girl, when Jesus had already been arrested, Peter denied Jesus swearing
that he had no connection with him (Mk 14:66-72). In the garden of olives,
when Jesus had been arrested, he even used his word (Jn 18:10), but then fled,
leaving Jesus alone (Mk 14:50). Peter was not naturally rock! And yet the weak
and human Peter, so like us, did become rock because Jesus had prayed for him: "Peter,
I have prayed for you so that your faith may not fail; and, when you have turned
again, strengthen your brethren" (Lk 22:31-32). That is why Jesus was
able to say: "You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church" (Mt
16:18). Jesus helped him to become rock. After the resurrection,
in Galilee, Jesus appeared to Peter and asked him twice: "Peter, do you
love me?" And Peter replied twice: "Lord, you know that I love you" (Jn
21:15.16). When Jesus put the same question to him the third time, Peter was
hurt. He must have remembered that he had denied him three times. So he answered: "Lord,
you know all things! You know that I love you!" It was then that Jesus
entrusted to him the care of the sheep: "Peter, feed my sheep!" (Jn
21:17). With Jesus' help, the strength of the rock grew in Peter and he revealed
himself on the day of Pentecost. On that day, when the Holy Spirit descended
upon the disciples, Peter opened the doors of the upper room where they were
all gathered behind closed doors for fear of the Jews (Jn 20:19), and, infused
with courage, began to announce the Good News of Jesus to the people (Acts
2:14-40). From then on he never stopped! On account of this courageous proclamation
of the resurrection, he was arrested (Acts 4:3). During the interrogation he
was forbidden to announce the good news (Acts 4:18), but Peter did not obey
the prohibition. He said: "We must obey God rather then man!" (Acts
4:19; 5:29). He was arrested again (Acts 5:18.26). He was scourged (Acts 5:40).
But he said: "Thank you very much. But we shall go on!" (cfr Acts
Tradition tells us that at the end of his life, when he was in Rome, Peter
had another moment of fear. But then he went back, was arrested and condemned
to death on the cross. However, he asked that he might be crucified with his
head down. He thought that he was not worthy to die in the same way as his
master, Jesus. Peter was true to himself to the very end.
6. Psalm 103 (102)
Bless the Lord, O my soul;
and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagles.
The Lord works vindication
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor requite us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father pities his children,
so the Lord pities those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord
is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children's children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
hearkening to the voice of his word!
Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers that do his will!
Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand
better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions
and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed
to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also
practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity
of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.