“On This Rock…”: Identity (Matthew 16:13-20)

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I have a difficult confession to make. It’s a confession that may alienate me from my subculture, but nevertheless, I need to speak out. That way healing lies.

I have no desire to see The Goonies again.

As a 36 year old, The Goonies is one of the foundational cinematic texts of my generation, but it’s lost to me, simply because it involves the Truffle Shuffle, and when you’re an overweight school kid, the Truffle Shuffle stops being a scene in a film and becomes a weapon to hide from.

It’s amazing what shapes our identity, isn’t it? The things that people tell us and use against us with such consistency and vehemence that we start to believe them. We’re moulded by all those sticks and stones, creating identities that we can live with, because even though they’re damaging and restricting, they’re also somehow comforting in their familiarity. We’re already hurt, so stay in the cocoon, because breaking out will be even worse.

We find our identity shaped by others, parents or classmates or celebrities who don’t know we exist, and even years after the fact, when we’ve started families and careers, we’re still, say, a socially awkward fat kid in the playground, safe for now but forever waiting for the other shoe to drop.

This may just be me, but I don’t think so.

There’s a moment in which Simon is renamed as Peter, and it’s huge. Peter declares that he believes Jesus to be the Messiah and gets a new name in return. Now, Simon’s a perfectly good name, of course, meaning “he who hears God”. Given that Jesus tells him that God gave him that knowledge, maybe there’s still a significance to his old name. It’s his new name that really matters though.

There are some names I’m happy to own – I’m fine with being a geek, and I’m content with being an introvert. I have no problem with being called a Christian, although Westboro Baptist Church’s insanity adds a tension to that. But of course I’m happy with these names. They’re comfortable.

Simon’s new name spoke of anything but comfort. It was a destiny, speaking of his leadership role among the apostles. Peter – “rock” – was to become a foundation of the early church, but that was a role that would lead to persecution and a violent death. Receiving his new name was equivalent to receiving his ministry, which probably wasn’t common for a working class fisherman at the time.

We tend to think of the disciples as a group of old, beardy men, but in reality they were most likely teenagers, expected to follow in the footsteps of their fathers. Hearing Jesus’s words to Peter, following in his steps for three years, must have opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Suddenly they were no longer limited by geography and religion and the vicious words of others. They had received a new identity, one limited only by God – and God doesn’t have limits.

The identities we assume, the identities forced upon us by others… They don’t have to be permanent. They don’t have to define us. We don’t have to listen to a history’s worth of voices pointing out our failures and sins and inadequacies.

We can listen to God.

Hear his voice.

And receive a new name.

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