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The Promise of the New Name

August 24, 2014 click on left end of black bar to play-pause

August 24, 2014
Matthew 16:13-20
Fr. George Smiga

You may not have noticed it in today’s gospel, but Simon, son of Jonah, receives a new name. From now on, he will be called Peter, a name that means rock. Upon the rock of Peter, Jesus will build his church.

Now, this new name for Peter is not some legalistic switch or clerical adjustment. The name is a sign of a new identity. The change of names in the Bible is an indication that someone is becoming a new person. Because the new name comes from Jesus, it is clear that Peter’s new identity will come from Jesus as well. His new name is a sign of Jesus’ intention to transform Peter into someone who is wonderful, useful, and good.

Now, this new name sets up a pattern within today’s gospel that tells us what true faith really is. True faith begins with a profession of belief. Peter says to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” But although faith begins with this profession, it does not end there. True faith does not remain a concept or a statement. The profession of faith initiates a process of transformation in our lives, a transformation that Jesus will bring about. Peter first names Jesus, “You are the Christ,” and then Jesus names Peter, “You are rock.” His new name marks Jesus’ intention to make Peter a new man.

This transformation in Peter does not happen at once. In fact, it takes a good deal of time. Even after Peter receives his new name, he still is rebuked because he misunderstands the cross; he fumbles at the Last Supper, refusing to let Jesus wash his feet; and he denies Jesus three times during the passion. But Peter’s new name is a promise of Jesus’ commitment to him. Jesus is determined to make that name stick. So, in time, Peter does become the rock on which the Church is built.

You and I profess Jesus as our Lord, but that profession is not the fullness of our faith. Once we name Jesus, then he names us. And, if we allow it, our new name is his promise to change us.

Jesus can remove the anger and the depression that we feel because of a failed marriage or a loss of someone we love in death. Jesus can instill in us a passion for justice that shakes our convictions, privileges, and self-interest. Jesus can grant us a tenderness that allows us to replace judgment with patience, and pettiness with generosity. Jesus can give us the freedom to leave all that enslaves us behind.

What name does Jesus give you? Compassion? Courage? Service? Acceptance? Forgiveness? I know that these are not the person that you are today and perhaps they are not the person that you ever thought you could be. But if you name Jesus, he will name you. If you profess him as your Lord, he will give you a new identity and he is determined to make your new name stick.

So we must trust him. If Jesus could change Peter into the rock on which the Church is built, he can change us to be the disciples we need to be. Let us open our hearts, then, and let him in.

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