Matthew 16:13-20 (CEB): Now when Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Human One is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
He said, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it. I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Anything you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. Anything you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.” Then he ordered the disciples not to tell anybody that he was the Christ.
There is a lot of talk about Jesus’ meaning in this passage. A lot of people see this as ‘proof’ that Jesus would build his church on Peter, since he was the first one to recognize that Jesus was the Messiah. But, I don’t think that’s quite right.
I think Jesus meaning here is that it was Peter’s revelation concerning Jesus which would be the foundation of the church. This is attested to by St Paul when he wrote, ‘No one can lay any other foundation besides the one that is already laid, which is Jesus Christ’ (1Corinthians 3.11 CEB). Even Jesus alludes that he, not Peter, is the ‘cornerstone’ of the whole foundation (see Matthew 21.33-46 CEB and parallels). And just so that we don’t miss the point in the Gospels, while talking to the religious opposition, Peter plainly stated, ‘This Jesus is the stone you builders rejected; he has become the cornerstone’ (Acts 4.11 CEB; cf. 1Peter 2.7 CEB). That is, the revelation that Jesus is creation’s True King is the cornerstone to the whole foundation.
Furthermore, the key to this interpretation rests in Jesus’ use of the word ‘rock’.* In Luke, Jesus said:
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I say? I’ll show what it’s like when someone comes to me, hears my words, and puts them into practice. It’s like a person building a house by digging deep and laying the foundation on bedrock. When the flood came, the rising water smashed against that house, but the water couldn’t shake the house because it was well built.”
Here, we see that it’s not just the recognition of Jesus as Messiah but it’s living the way of Jesus, too. It starts with recognizing Jesus as creation’s True King. That is the cornerstone to the whole foundation. But it is also in walking in his Way. It is these two things that make up the foundation of the church. St Paul wrote, ‘As God’s household (i.e., the church - j+), you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone’ (Ephesians 2.20 CEB). The ‘apostles and prophets’ lived the Way of Jesus. They, along with Christ, are our examples.
When we recognize Jesus as the Messiah and live the Way he taught and showed us, we are standing on the shoulders of the saints before us - Mary, Peter, Paul, John, Pheobe, Patrick, Brigit, Aidan, Columba, Kevin, Augustine, Aquinas, Basil, Gregory, Origen, Julian, Theresa, etc., etc. as a testimony to the Way.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br Jack+, LC
* Granted, Peter’s name was changed from Cephus to ‘Peter’, which means ‘rock’. I think this was to emphasize that it was the revelation that was the ‘rock’ or foundation upon which the church would be built.