So how does it come to be that Jesus, who boldly proclaimed over Simon a new name, Peter, and declared him to be the foundation of the church and James, who heard this proclamation and called the man Peter along with the rest of the disciples, at times revert him to his former name, to calling him Simon in some of the most tender and powerful moments of the age of the resurrection, the very age when the church ought to be being established - the very thing Peter was so named for?
Quite simply, these moments did not require a Peter; they required a Simon. They were not about building the foundations of the church, but about getting at the heart of a man. Simon had to know who he was before he could ever be who he would be.
Sometimes, he had to be reminded of that.
Take the tender scene on the seashore, when Jesus calls the disciple to Himself and asks, three times, Simon, do you love me? He could have called the disciple Peter here. After all, He's been resurrected and the church age has come; now is the time to start building the church.
But Peter is distraught, distressed with himself. He has just done the thing that he swore he wouldn't do - denied his Lord and abandoned him, turned his back and tucked his tail the way all the other disciples had. They were, as Jesus predicted, scattered like sheep without a shepherd, and Simon here is feeling deeply his own sheepishness. He certainly doesn't feel like a Peter. He is no rock. He is not a worthy man to build the church...or anything else.
That's why Jesus calls him Simon. Strip away all that. Take away all the expectation, the heavy burden of becoming the one that Jesus has named you to be. Hearken back to that first call, to that day just three years before when Jesus had not called a Peter, but a Simon. Simon.... All of a sudden, his head picks up. He looks, with tears in his eyes, at the Rabbi, the Savior whose call in this moment sounds just like that first one. None of the expectation matters right now - it's one Man to another. Simon....
It gives him the opportunity to go back and get his own firm footing again, to remember who he is. Who he has always been. He is the same Simon who left his boat three years ago to follow this man. The same Simon who, without hesitation, declared, "You are the Messiah." The same Simon who had traveled around, cast out demons, seen miracles, climbed the mountain and witnessed the Transfiguration. He might, one day, by the mercy of God, be the Peter he has been named to be, but he never stops being Simon. On the seashore, Jesus lets him touch that.
The same kind of distinction is being made in Acts when James refers to him as Simon, not Peter. He is the apostle, yes, who is building the church, but this debate stems from what happens when someone believes. What is the sign that a true witness is being made? And it is not Peter who is the witness, but Simon. Peter is the proclaimer; Simon has always been the disciple.
So when he stands in the assembly and talks about all of the things that he's seen, the word of God given to him, the miracles he's witnessed, and his confidence in the acts of the Holy Spirit, he's not being Peter. He's not building the church. He's Simon, the witness, the testifier. He is the one who was with the twelve, the one who was with Jesus Himself. He's not the apostle; he is the disciple, and James uses his name, Simon, to honor that.
Neither of these makes him any less Peter. In fact, it's quite the opposite. The more Simon this man is, the more Peter he is. He could not be the latter if he ever came out of touch with the former. Jesus may have called him Peter, but neither of them (and none of us) should ever forget that He called Simon. These moments help him to remember that, they touch on something at the very core of who he is that, regardless of personal failure or ministerial success, hasn't changed.
He is Simon...Peter.
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