“Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas” — which is translated Peter.”
Friday, 22 January 2021
In global mythologies, one often reads how a Hero’s name is changed in the course of an adventure. On one level, this makes perfect sense: the hero is no longer who she or he was before. The journey, the adventure and the response to the call have all change who they were: the name is often foreshadowing, a prediction of what the hero will achieve, or the task he or she must perform. Historically, people who became monks and nuns often used to take on new names – often after saints or founders of their orders – as a sign of the new life journey they had chosen. Similarly, during revolutions, activists would take on noms de guerre both to express their commitment and hide their previous identities in order to protect relatives outside the struggle.
A new name is an expression of commitment and the kind of person the hero is or aspires to be. In this gospel passage, Simon became Cephas or Peter. The word means rock. We are invited, I think, to reflect on what this means: solid, strong, unyielding, possibly (as we let our imaginations move into the realm of wider word association) rigid, stubborn, fixed. They express Simon’s character. They foreshadow how he will behave. It could even suggest that, just as a rock can crack or crumble, he too will have his moments of doubt and failure.
Sometimes I wonder what we’d call ourselves if we had the choice to name ourselves. It is possible to change one’s name legally, but few do. But let’s imagine that, as we embark on our personal journeys, as life experience moulds us into new people, we were to give ourselves an informal or even secret name. What would it be?
And would we live up to it in the course of our journey?