THE SIGN – Wilderness East of the Lake of Galilee
Jesus welcomed Cornelius to their circle and gestured that he sit between Simon and Matthew. Matthew had his writing tablet out and was scribbling away. As he was meticulous in keeping records as a former tax collector, he had taken on the task on keeping a journal. By the light of the campfire, Cornelius saw that it was only the twelve that was gathered with Jesus. All of them offered him a nod of greeting. The men were talking among themselves about today’s event, when Jesus interrupted with this question.
“Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?” Jesus asked.
The men started to answer all at once. Some have heard that he was John the Baptist returned from the dead. Matthew and a couple of others called out Elijah. Every major Prophet of old from Jeremiah to Elisha was mentioned.
Then Jesus raised his hand for silence and asked, “But who do you say that I am?”
Cornelius watched the men look at each other like they were afraid to give the wrong answer. He wanted to blurt his answer out but felt that it was not his place. Then Peter stood up with determination and answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!”
Then Jesus approached the big man and to Cornelius’ surprise he spoke in Greek! “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” [Matthew 16:13-20]
Jesus then sat down allowing them to discuss it among themselves. Cornelius, as to his practice, preferred to think it out by himself. The first thing that came to his mind was, ‘Why in Greek?’ Here in Galilee, Aramaic was the common language among the locals, but Greek was often used in trade with foreigners. In fact, Greek was often used this way throughout the Mediterranean even as far as the cold North Country where the empire had not touched. As he stared at Matthew’s writing, he thought, ‘Of course, one day Jesus’ teachings will go out among the nations and Greek is richer in vocabulary and meaning than Aramaic! At that matter, it is even better than Latin, the language of Rome.’ This message is for the ages, not just for the Jews or else Jesus would have spoken in Hebrew.
So, Cornelius focused on the message. Jesus said that God had opened Peter’s eyes and revealed to him who He really was. He himself came to that same conclusion even before Peter declared it. He had to wonder if God’s hand was behind this as well. Was his conclusion that Jesus may be the promised Messiah from months of investigative work? As he looked back, he began to see patterns of a divine guiding hand. He would never have investigated Jesus closely if it were not for John the Baptist.
‘But hold on’, he thought. ‘He did not exactly point out Jesus directly!’ John pointed him to the manuscripts of Isaiah of which he was already studying even before he came into this land. Was that coincidence? At that matter, he would not have shown any interest in the Baptist if it wasn’t for his childhood interest in the Prophets of God. Cornelius eyes widened in astonishment to the realization that God may have put him on this road of discovery when he was still a child hearing for the first time of Jacob telling a story of God choosing a shepherd boy to lead His people. He felt he should talk about this in length with his old mentor.
Meanwhile, his mind started to work on the final part of Jesus’ message. He was staring at Matthew’s writing tablet and the freshly scratched message on it. He asked him if he could look at it closely. Matthew handed the tablet to him. Cornelius tilted it toward the fire so that he could read.
Matthew wrote Jesus’ message, word for word, in Greek. Right under it, he also wrote the Aramaic interpretation. His first impression was that Jesus was declaring that Peter would be the ‘rock’ on which He would build His church. But for some reason, he was not sure if that was correct. He again looked over the Greek and Aramaic passage. At first, he was not sure what he was looking for. Then he saw a discrepancy in the Aramaic passage and compared it to the Greek. In the Greek, Jesus used the words Petros for Peter and petra for a big rock. In the Aramaic, Matthew used only one word for both, cephas, which both translate to Peter and rock. But then Cornelius realized that the Greek word, Petros, also means small stone. Now, he understood why in Greek.
It is a play on words. Jesus was not declaring that Peter would be the ‘rock’ on which He would build His church. He again looked at the original passage. ‘You are Petros… small stone… and upon this petra… big rock… I will build my church.’
In his mind’s eye he saw an image of a small stone being placed upon a massive rock. The small stone was definitely Peter who was privileged to be placed on the big rock because of his open declaration of faith. The only other question that came to mind was, ‘Who is the big rock?’ Of course, there was no doubt who that is.
Cornelius looked over at Jesus and found him looking at him too with that knowing smile. Then Jesus quieted down the men.
The story continues on in my next post.
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