People have wondered for a long time why Jesus both refers to Andrew’s brother Simon as the rock, and also renames him as the rock (the meaning of the word that gets translated into English as “Peter”), in Sunday’s Gospel. The Gospel tells you where it happened, “in the region of Caesarea Philippi,” and knowing something about that place sheds light on Jesus’ description of Simon in these terms.
North of the Sea of Galilee (in the Golan Heights), Caesarea Philippi sits in the foothills of Mount Hermon. At 9,232 feet above sea level, the peaks of Mount Hermon are the view, no matter where you are in the region of Caesarea Philippi. If you refer to “the mountain” or “the rock” in that area, the first thought that anyone is going to have is Mount Hermon.
This is the rock that Simon is being compared to, to which his new name refers. And the implication is clear – the foundation that Jesus is creating in Peter is the greater rock. Keep this visual in mind when you hear Sunday’s Gospel, to get a feeling for both how striking Jesus’ comments are, and what a radical change Jesus’ words represent for Simon who becomes Peter.
More on Sunday’s Gospel tomorrow.