Jesus, Our Rock

Matthew 16: 13-23
Jer 31: 31-34 / Ps 51: 12-15. 18-19

I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
(Matthew 16:18)

Lord, You are our rock, our stronghold,
Our Savior, there is no debate;
By Your Name all of us are called
As one church who profess our faith.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He asked, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then He warned His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Christ. From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:13-23)

Reflection

Here, for the first time, among the rocky crevices of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus speaks to His apostles about building His Church. And His very words here have become the eye of a stormy debate among the Catholic Church and the Orthodox church and the Protestants. The Catholic Church claims that our Lord was referring to St. Peter as the rock upon which He would build His church, thus emphasizing the primacy of St. Peter as the first pope. The Orthodox church, however believes that our Lord was not referring to Peter, but to his profession of faith as the foundation of His church. And this expression of faith was not of his own or “revealed to you by man, but my Father in heaven.” Thus, like St. Peter’s, the faith of all Christians who profess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our Savior is the foundation of the universal church. The position of most Protestants (who cite Scriptures as the basis of their arguments) is that our Lord was actually referring to Himself as the “Rock” upon Whom His Church would be founded. Among others, they cite Deuteronomy: “He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just” (32:4); Isaiah: “You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one” (44:8); 2 Samuel: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge” (22:2-3); 1Corinthians: “…for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” And finally, in the same letter of St. Paul: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1Cor.3:11).

Reflecting on the arguments of the different churches, I feel that they may all be correct. Jesus was indeed referring to St. Peter as the rock upon which He was building its foundation, but only insofar as being His primary apostle, he would be representing the original Rock, Jesus Himself. But it is also our collective faith in Jesus that makes our Church stable and strong, and our faith is God’s gift to us. It is therefore God Himself, through Jesus Who is the cornerstone of our Church.

Lord, through Your apostles and saints You have built up Your Church here on earth. May we do our share in adding strength to its foundation by spreading Your Word. Amen.

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