On Becoming a Pebble: The Name God Gave Simon

As far as I can tell, it happened only six times in the Bible. For God to personally name a mortal is a rare and significant event. In the Hebrew culture, names of children were usually indicative of either the time in history when they were born or wishes for the development of their character. Later, the use of family names became more common. When God chose to give a particular name to someone, it seems to have been a response to a specific event or issue in their life as well as an object lesson for the rest of us.

Adam or adama means red earth. What does it say to you that the first human name created on this planet is a descriptor of the soil from which mortals were formed? Abraham means father of many, a millennia-large promise to a barren couple and a reminder to the rest of us that nothing is impossible with God’s grace. Jacob’s name literally means follower. It became proverbial for one who is deceptive. Fleeing from Laban and afraid of Esau, at night by the Jabbok he wrestled through the dark hours with God. At daybreak, God renamed Jacob Israel, he who struggles “because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” God named the infant Solomon Jedidiah, friend of God, at a time when many might have considered him cursed because of his father’s multiple betrayals. And then Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem: Jesus means Yaweh saves “because He shall save His people from their sins.” Christ is translated anointed one, smeared with sacred oil in a ceremony of dedication. The name was a divine empowering of task and office.

The renaming of Simon was no less pivotal. When Andrew brought his brother to meet Jesus,

Jesus looked at him and said, you are Simon, son of John. You will be called Peter (petros) (John 2:42).

Petros describes a small individual stone, a pebble. Linguistically, the term can be used in contrast to petra, the bedrock. Notice the prophetic nuance in Jesus’ language. Jesus is saying that Simon will someday grow into the name Pebble. He is not ready for it yet. Later in time when Peter acknowledged Jesus as Messiah, his Lord would say to Simon,

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

In the Psalms, God is referred to as a rock, sur: a focus of stability, a place of security and safety. Jesus called himself the Cornerstone or Foundation, petra. He is the Rock on which the church was built. He is the One who could not be overcome. From their introduction, Jesus knew that Simon would come to understand the role of the Christ and the role of the follower: Foundation Stone and small part of that stone. He also understood it would take Simon quite the journey to get there.

I believe Peter was already being led by the Holy Spirit when he met Jesus. How else could this Roman-hating, impulsive, muscular, net-lugging, Galilean team leader of a fishing fleet choose to build a relationship with, and follow, Someone who had just predicted that he would end up as a pebble? That said, most know Peter’s journey to understand his connection with his Friend and Savior—that he was a pebble part of the Foundation Stone, would be…well…would be interesting.

With the rest of the disciples, Peter saw the miracles, heard the parables, learned to see the sophistry of the Pharisees, participated in the witnessing internships, helped feed several thousand people (twice), faced demons, and increasingly grew to better understand Heaven’s values. Four events stand out for me as turning points in Peter’s individual journey: his walk on the water, his acknowledgement at Caesarea Philippi, his denial in the high priest’s court, and his restoration by the Sea of Galilee.

Soon after the death of John the Baptist and the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus sent the disciples on a journey to Gennesaret by boat.

They became buffeted by wind and waves. Right before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” He said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:26-31).

Clearly, I cannot read Peter’s mind. That said, I think the answer to Jesus’ question may have been, “I thought with your invitation I could walk on water. I realized I couldn’t do this on my own. I got scared. I had to call for help. I am glad You were there.” He wasn’t different from many of us who, because we are Christians, take on tasks or adventures without realizing that the goal is not dependent on us but on the One who is leading the larger project. What I appreciate about Peter is that he didn’t let his probable embarrassment get in the way of his growing relationship with, and understanding of, Jesus. I think that was a large step toward understanding what it means to be the small stone in the protection of the Foundation.

Later, 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.” “But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16:13-17).

At this point Jesus changes a prediction to present tense.

I tell you that you are Petros and upon this Petra I will build my church. (Matthew 16:18)

Peter’s understanding and acknowledgement of the truth that his friend and rabbi is the Divine Anointed One was another step toward a clear perception of their relationship. There is a gift in being a small stone that is part of the Larger One; it comes with understanding and acknowledging our fragile need and, at the same time, God’s power to meet it.

I wish that Peter could have held on to his revelation that Jesus was the Cornerstone, the Safe Place, the One who could not fail, the One who would protect, and the One who loved him. Like many of us in dangerous times, on crucifixion Thursday, in the courtyard of the high priest, Peter regressed. He forgot that he was only a pebble who did not have to be in charge of his own safety. He denied his relationship with Someone he loved because he was afraid it would cause himself harm. I can’t judge him because I, like many of us, have done something similar. What I appreciate about the impulsive fisherman is that he went outside and wept bitterly and yearned for restoration and reconnection to the Cornerstone…

…which was granted.

On the Sea of Tiberius, in a near exact replication of an event three years earlier, the resurrected Jesus filled a fishnet and cooked breakfast. He then went on to officially restore Peter’s relationship with Him and to clearly reinstate Peter into his former place in the community of disciples. Addressing Petros by his old name, Jesus said:

“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again, Jesus said, “Simon son of John do you truly love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time He said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.” “Feed my sheep” John 21:15-17.

Three affirmations for three denials. An acknowledgement of love before an assignment of task. An understanding of Who was in charge before a fitness to be an under shepherd. A willingness to be a pebble in the work of the Cornerstone, to rest in the leadership, guidance, and safety of the One who is stability and security.

Peter was humbled to face the lessons of the future where he would learn the prejudice he must set aside. This growth helped him develop into one of the safe leaders for the new church. Much later he began his second letter by acknowledging what it means to be a small part of the Cornerstone:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3,4).

He could feed the sheep because he had learned what it means to be part of the Cornerstone: a pebble.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7938

I don’t think calling Peter a “pebble” is being true to translated meaning.

Jesus spoke in Aramaic, not modern Greek being referenced here. When He said that Peter would be the rock, he meant that he would be a good sized rock, not a pebble! I mean, the name Jesus used was Aramaic- Kephas…or what we are accustomed to…Cephas. A rock!

When Jesus said that Cephas would be the one feeding His lambs and adult sheep in His absence, that was a very substantial role. He would be the leader of the fledgling church, the vulnerable church; he would be the defender of truth and orthodoxy in the physical absence of Christ. Cephas obviously was given tremendous authority early on. He was healing, helping believers free themselves from sins, being consulted as a final authority in spiritual questions and conflicts. Remember the rage of the Dragon against the woman and the rest of her offspring. A very pivotal time in the church’s history and the Lord commissioned Peter for such a critical moment in Christian history. Christ is the Cornerstone, indeed, but the Apostles and Prophets are referred to as Foundation in Ephesians 2. That is meaningful in this discussion.

He surely was not a pebble. “Pebbles” don’t request to be crucified upside down because they don’t deserve being crucified upright.

Peter, the dauntless rock!

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If the reason to know the meaning of rock is an unkind and self-congratulatory one, I think Jesus would understand if you avoided the text. Maybe He would encourage it. In my childhood, it was used to “prove” that the Catholic church was wrong in its claim that the Pope was the legitimate spiritual heir to Peter and his leadership position in the Christian church, and therefore he was an anti-Christ or worse. Perhaps the Adventist church no longer suggests this and maybe my memory is faulty.

Smile, The crucifixion took place on FRIDAY, not Thursday, being that the evening and the morning , marked the day .To understand Peter , we must look at his last contact with Jesus .Why did he go back fishing? because he met Jesus first, while fishing. While he was uneducated, that decision shows him to be very smart. Peter , was a CHIP OF THE OLD BLOCK . He was a man with faults . Faults that would not allow him to mature into the man Christ saw he could be. Why did Jesus say , " feed my sheep. ?" Peter was under instructions from the True Shepherd . Psalms 23 was his course manual . The Lord was his Shepherd and his Sabbath .Ps 22 talks of the events that took place on Friday, and Ps 24 tells us of the events that took place on Sunday morning .So I am correct to call Ps 23 the Sabbath psalm. Each verse talks about rest. Peter had not yet found this Rest. He was personally always in need, " I shall not want". He slept late, and did not search out new pastures for the sheep ,"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures . “Hirelings had a habit of crossing the stream in deep rushing water. Being careless, some young lambs and older sheep got lost .” He leadeth me besides the still waters .Peter you are unable to restore anyone, until you yourself are restored in Christ . It was in the valley of the shadow of death, that Jesus found Himself in the tomb, on the Sabbath . Peter, If you take up this calling, ."Will you lay your life down for me ? " In Jesus, You will fear no evil. The rod that will be used to bring you in line , will also help you to use the staff , to gently lead my sheep back to the fold. It is hard for an half full cup to share . Your cup must be running over. It is here in the mist of your enemies , that God wishes to honor you with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The tools in your hand are the ten commandments , from which goodness and mercy flow , leading you back home to God .Peter , If you could just learn this, you would be ready to feed my sheep .Above all, " Lovest thou me more than these ? " Peter learnt his lesson, and became a great shepherd over the church. Amen.

For sure Peter was a tough Nut to crack, but he was no pebble. He is listed as part of the foundation of the new city of God. He needed to be honed to fit as we are. Jesus worked him over as did Paul. We need the same and more.

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Trying to navigate through the pebbles and rocks I hope we don’t lose the direct impact of the story. Of course it’s not Peter that is the “rock” upon which the church is built, but his declaration, You are there Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah - God’s Son, is the cornerstone of the church; and his story is the the Gospel. We lose sight of that when we pile on various teachings we think are descriptive of our unique brand of church. Once we start taking for granted Peter’s declaration, and try to elaborate on the theme, we drift into a self-agrandizing message.

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Rodney, can I suggest you re-think this statement in the light of 2 Corinthians 3 and especially verses 6 to 9. The letters engraved on tables of stone kill and are a ministry of death and condemnation. If goodness and mercy flow from the ten commandments then Christ died for nothing. Goodness and mercy for lost sinners and for redeemed sinners has only one source, the shed blood of Christ on the cross and the resurrection of our Lord that followed. Peter knew how precious this blood was, being born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

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Sometimes when looking among “worthless pebbles” there have been found Valuable Gem Stones.
But ONLY valuable when they have been run through the rock polisher, with polishing material, for
several hours.
So a seemingly common “pebble” out there fishing for years gets picked by Jesus. Put in the Jesus Rock Polisher for 3 and half years.
Finally exhibits Gem Stone quality that was ALWAYS there beneath the surface.

Many are like that. Probably ALL humans are like that. Just don’t stay in the Jesus Rock Polisher
long enough.

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My limited understanding of Greek would suggest that petra is a female, petros a male noun. Calling Simon “Petra” would have meant to feminise him, let him be known as a “she” … Now the implications of such a misnomer would have been more mind boggling than the differences between a pebble, a stone and a rock.

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Not sure where you’re going with this, but it’s a very pertinent observation. It occurs to me that we weigh, sift and analyse every syllable of holy writ, when sometimes, the authors’ own grasp of the language was at best, fairly rudimentary.

There are very limited overlaps between science and literature, but it seems to me that one of them is that we should not state results in a greater degree of precision than the instruments are capable of measuring.

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Oh well, whatever . . . Poor Peter gets lost some place in Acts and Paul seems to take over.

But the greatest story of all time comes later from the lips of this remarkable fisherman. His story of Jesus, transcribed - or should I say retold - by Mark is so important that it is taken over completely by Matthew - and Luke himself makes use of somewhere near 60% of it - and perhaps there is a faint echo of it to be found in John’s gospel (Richard Bauckham).

In a sense Peter had the final say and I prefer his searching questions (found in the first eight chapters of Mark’s gospel) about his remarkable friend Jesus than any of Paul’s words by far. Peter’s recollection of Jesus question “Who do men say that I am” is the greatest imprimatur for modern man that could ever be penned.

Thank you Kephas, for allowing us the right to deconstruct the greatest life ever lived - and then reconstruct it within the meaning of our own time.

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I’m no Greek scholar, but from what I understand, the meaning of petros and petra are more fluid than the fixed difference between large rock vs.pebble, or movable stone. The Aramaic, Kepha, in which it is rooted, does not seem to specify one meaning over the other, either. It seems that some of that dichotomy was imported into the interpretation of Matthew 16, with the intent of refuting that Peter was the rock that the church was built upon, and the idea of papal succession that grew from it.

If anything, a more fluid meaning reveals the fluid nature of Peter’s faith and experience…he went from the movable stone to a rock and back again, much like us. Jesus foresaw this in him, and named him accordingly.

Thanks…

Frank

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Peter needed to be rid of the peer pressured, herd mentality, conventional mindset, crowd acceptance attitude.

This is one of the reason Jesus asked…“Who do MEN say that I am?”

Notice even years after the resurrection & meeting with Jesus where commanded to feed the sheep/lambs…

Paul had to publically get into Peter’s face…
.
“But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If you, being a Jew, live after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compel you the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” Gal 2:14

Wanting to belong to the crowd makes it so one stays a coward, and compromises truth/godly principles. Peter still had some growing up to do.

Adventists suffer from this same weakness when it wants to be part of the evangelical, fundie, churchian crowd who have warped the meaning of the key/basic Christian terms…gospel, grace, salvation.
Evidence of this is in phrases like “assurance of salvation” and we HAVE been saved…and the gospel is whatever sounds comfortable.

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I’m ultra-new here and I’m not sure which doctrinal group I fall into (if any); what I’m labeled in this case really doesn’t matter to me. Greek versus Aramaic, Kephas or Cephas, pebble, “good sized rock”, or a Mountain! In perhaps a very uneducated, very pebble-sized intellect as scripture goes, I tend to want to err on the side of a simpler view (and honestly, I’m reasonably sure Jesus would want us to understand Him this way). Remember His answer to those who would question His use of the parables?

In every language I’ve ever heard of, it seems reasonable to me that when one wants to express themselves such that future readers will catch on clearly, and that in this case Jesus used two different words because He wanted to express some ‘comparison’ between the two ‘ideas’ after all! It seems reasonable to me that Jesus certainly could have used a single word (petros or petra), but then we know that He didn’t; that in fact, He did choose two distinct words where one applies to Peter and the other, Jesus Himself.

I once worked as a concrete laborer / finisher. So, I understand the concepts that were used in the scriptures like ‘foundation’ and ‘cornerstone’ and the use of a ‘pebble’ or ‘stone’ or ‘rock’ or even ‘boulder’ or even ‘sand’ for that matter! Further, they’re all different aren’t they? Different sizes, and each used for different purposes (but you don’t begin by mixing water and boulders in order to create cement bind others together). So as for the ingredients to build a strong foundation, I can relate as to why one is chosen over another and when. One things for sure though–You don’t tell your ‘mixer-man’ to just figure it out the consistency all by himself–not for my house, and I don’t believe Jesus would leave us uninstructed either!

I do know from studying a bit about the culture of that time and place, that Jesus was always needing to speak in terms people could relate (and also, I see people here leaving the idea that Jesus would have been restricted in His cultural language–and I don’t think He would have been at all); Jesus would have left, confident that they would understand. When ninety (90%) percent or more of their population were known to be illiterate and depended heavily on receiving their routine dose of scripture from ‘teacher’ or ‘rabbi’ (in fact, the title that Jesus was being referred to by the people who didn’t already know Him as ‘Lord’), then not only does it make sense to me that He would choose to use things that they were completely familiar with (as in cement-making in this case), but also His use of ‘stone’ versus ‘rock’ or ‘boulder’ for example, would have been incredibly simple for the people of that culture to relate to (i.e. pebbles versus stones versus rocks, and their use etc.).

His ‘exact’ reason for using the rock versus the pebble (one size versus the other or one purpose versus another), seems pretty clear to me and likely the reason He used them. And, I’m not buying this idea that Jesus meant the same thing but decided it best to include two different words (what, was the Creator of all things trying to impress)? Yes, Jesus certainly could have made it easier (then again he used parables and had to explain His use of them to His own Apostles; yet they were said to be ‘blessed’ because they did understand concepts that others did not). So, if we take the text literally, are we blessed to understand the ‘simple’ meaning as Christ revealed it in this case? Just a thought.

To me, my understanding is that the Foundation of something is key; bad foundation, bad building and good foundation, good house. So nothing in the house of the church need be stronger than the Foundation–Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone (and of course if it’s not right, the whole building is wrong). The Cornerstone of Jesus as the Christ, we know to be perfection. But, the rest of the foundation is going to need to be built from perfect mixtures of water, sand, lime, pebbles, stones, and rocks! Add the wrong ingredient at the wrong time and … well, therein lies my reason I believe there is merit in Christ’s use of rock / stone. Not boulders; boulders are special just as Jesus Himself is Special.

So here, I get the idea that Jesus was trying to instill (I think). The church needs the support of a solid foundation. If that Foundation doesn’t begin with Christ as the Cornerstone, then ultimately, everything else we add to it (the church), will be ‘crooked’ and not ‘level’; it would begin crooked and end crooked; it would be movable and unstable just as the scriptures suggest. Then, for the church to be unmovable and sturdy for the duration, the right type and the right size of ingredients are going to be required just as with cement; choose the wrong type or the wrong size and the result is the same (catastrophe). Then rocks are going to be placed underneath first (to support pebbles, etc.). Bricks will be supported with cement that is then made from water, pebbles, sand, and even straw. Ask a cement man and he will tell you that there is not one single ingredient that is any more important than another; as weak as it is, even the wrong amount of straw would have resulted in a weak Foundation (for the church); the house will not stand up to the enemy and it’s easy to simply kick down!

This works for me! It’s a simple concept, but I think the Messiah knew that it needed to be this way. Like the Apostles, those closest to Jesus would ask, “Why the rock / pebble analogy? Couldn’t it have been expressed easier?” I think the answer might be the same as it was back then–Some are blessed to know the answer (the answers are obvious to them), but not all are so close to the Master that they would understand every concept; thus Jesus’ rocks and pebbles. I know as for me, I am almost always on the side of thanking Jesus for explaining things to me via a parable or two. Admittedly, it’s not very often that I could have understood the ‘obvious’ side.

We’re all needed (in the Kingdom) and we each will provide a certain function of the whole (some of us straw, some pebbles, some rocks). Scripture obviously has us view Jesus as the Cornerstone and in fact, He is referred to as this “Cornerstone” several times throughout the New Testament. Further, as I see it, Peter is not some sort of earthly replacement for Jesus and He certainly isn’t ‘passing off’ Christ’s Cornerstone status to any man, let alone one who revealed his wavering faith walking on water, who denied His Master three different times (after claims to die for Him), and one needing correction by another Apostle (Paul) at Antioch. Ask yourself, who would you choose to exemplify the characteristics of Jesus to then take His earthly baton / responsibility? That in fact, even Peter himself would refer to Jesus as the “rejected stone” and the “choice” corner stone. (1 Peter 2:7-8) For Peter to have been given a title which represented a “rock” would have placed him above Jesus’ status in the church. To reference Peter as something less than a boulder,but something greater than a pebble, does to me, ‘fit’ the picture that Jesus was trying to portray for us.

I believe in leaders in the church as Paul makes clear to Timothy (and those are expected to be part of the Foundation of the church), but for Jesus to relinquish total control on earth to a single man (and all of us are born weak, sinful men), flies in the face of the idea of a Kingdom of God which has a strong church. I don’t want to “read into” the scripture, but I think the obvious in this case is that Jesus did in fact, want to distinguish between Himself (as the rock) and Peter (as stone). The fact that we’re not told that Jesus was referring to Himself suggests to me, a church that would have to have faith in the scriptures, as they were written. While I believe that the “keys” of the church would be given Peter, I do not take the inference of Rock and Stone to have no meaning special meaning by Jesus.

Signed,
Happy as straw

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