August 27, 2023: A Play on Words


Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

A Play on Words

In three Gospels, Jesus renames Simon Peter when he becomes one of the twelve disciples. In the Gospel we read from today, Jesus doesn’t get to name Peter; he’s already called Peter when they meet. So it wasn’t that Jesus named Peter because he’s like a “rock,” but rather Jesus calls him a “rock” because he is named Peter.

The reason why Jesus would call Peter a rock is lost in English. In Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written, Petros (Peter) and petra (rock) are virtually the same words. So when Jesus says, “You are Petros, and on this petra I will build my church,” he’s improvising some creative wordplay with Peter’s name. It’s even more impressive that it works across multiple languages! In Aramaic, the language Peter and Jesus spoke, Cephas and kephas work in the same way. I enjoy jokes and a good play on words, so I have to tip my cap to Jesus here. Good one!

But the wordplay is just the start. It leads Jesus to create some beautiful imagery offering encouragement and describing Peter’s purpose. Jesus essentially says to him, “Here is what you’re already called. So be that rock, and be it for me.”

It almost makes you wonder what he would have said to Thomas the Twin (John 11:16) or James and John, the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17). There are great wordplay options there.

It should also make you wonder what he might say to you. You are already called many things based on who you are and what you do—names, roles, titles, jobs, and so on. So as you seek to love Jesus with all you are and all you do, what purpose-filled, encouraging wordplay might Jesus have for you?

Dan Miller, pastor, Edgeboro Moravian Church
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania