“Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas” — which is translated Peter.”

John 1:42

Friday, 22 January 2021

John 1:35-42

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?

Loving God,

Whether or not we change our names, in journeying with you on our personal hero’s journey, we are changed. May this change serve your greater glory.


Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

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