Wither Cephas

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My first foray into editing Wikipedia happened when I found some really bad etymology of St. Peter’s name. Following the misteaching of some Protestant theology, a well-meaning soul had written that Christ Jesus gave Symon the name “Petros,” then turned to a rocky cliff and said, “And upon this petra I will build my church.” (Since my edits, though, the entry has been radically altered.)

Petros, in Greek, is a little rock. Petra is a boulder. On the other hand, petros is masculine petra is feminine. (There is no masculine form of the word petra.) To those ignorant of the languages of the first century, it seems, then, that Christ called Peter a pebble. He did not.

Christ didn’t speak Greek. He spoke Aramaic. In Aramic, there is but one word for rocks of any size: cephas (kefa). Translated into English save for the word for rock, then, what Christ said to Symon was, “You are Cephas, and upon this cephas I shall build my church.”

Thus, Peter is recognized as the foundation of Christ’s church’s hierarchy. So why do I let him wither?

I pray for help from many saints, and Jesus grants so many favors because of their petitions on my behalf. Those saints include Our Lady, St. Faustina, St. Rita, St. Jude, St. Thomas Aquinas (my patron), St. Patrick, St. Augustine, my grandmother, and my daughter, among others. But I don’t remember ever praying for St. Peter’s help. How odd.

Peter is the name I chose for my confirmation. I chose it because Peter was the Apostle who screwed up the most. Sure, Judas screwed up most profoundly, but the Bible records only two errors on Judas’s part: betraying the Son of Man and committing suicide. Biggies by any standard, but only two. On the other hand, it seems that every page of the New Testament has some story of Peter’s missteps. Even St. Paul had to correct him after Jesus ascended into heaven.

But God chose Peter to found his church. Why? He seems the most fallible of men. How could God make him the infallible first pope?

Because, as someone better than I said, God does not choose the able; He enables the chosen. Peter is the perfect example of humanity. He is weak. He is egotistical. He is full of bravado and chest-pounding. But when a servant girl asks him if he is one of Christ’s disciples, he says not only “no” but “hell no.” Then he repents.

The history of human relations to God is told in Peter’s life. We make rash vows, we fail, we repent, we try again.

Between Peter and Judas are 10 men less well known. Like the several parables of servants charged with investing their masters’ riches, Peter is the one who takes all the risks, Judas is the one who takes none, and the other 10 were the ones who were cautiously opportunistic. In Christ’s parables, the master rewarded the risk-taker most luxuriously, the cautious moderatetly, and the risk-averse not at all. Peter, then, became the first pope, the custodian of the key of God’s Kingdom on earth. Judas’ reward was given to Peter, and Judas was left with nothing–for without God’s salvation, one is totally bereft. The other 10 received their measures.

So why don’t I pray to Peter? I am so like him. I am rash, braggadocious, and weak. I stake claims and take vows only to break them. By the grace of God, I also repent, for recognition of one’s weaknesses is truly a gift from the Almighty. Peter should be my first lifeline. But I shun him.

Perhaps it’s shame. The other saints seem so . . . saintly. They, I know, will understand my weaknesses, my sinfulness, and my brokenness. Peter, though, seems so human. While Our Lady will give me a scolding look before asking her Son to have mercy on me, St. Peter will cut off my ear. And rightly so, for I have it coming.

Tonight, before I sleep, I will ask St. Peter, Cephas, as Paul referred to him, for help. I will ask him to recognize my too-humanism, my under-Godliness. If anyone understands that, he will.