Sunday, 1 April 2018

The Fourth Station: Peter denies Jesus

I wonder if you have noticed the proliferation of nicknames in the Bible. The word ‘Christ’ is Greek for ‘anointed’ or ‘filled with’ — that is, anointed and filled with God — so Jesus was initially Jesus the Christ. After some time, his nickname seemed to fit so well that his nickname stuck. The nickname was never a surname though, which is why in the Bible the title generally comes first: he is Christ Jesus in the same way as we say ‘PC Smith’ or ‘Queen Elizabeth’.
     The next nickname is Christian. In politics a follower takes a title based on the person they follow. We talk of a Thatcherite, Blairite or Corbynista. It works with groups too, so the two sides during the Civil War were Royalists and Parliamentarians. In this mindset, a ‘Christian’ is simply a follower of Christ Jesus.
     The Bible overflows with other nicknames. Another example: ‘Barnabas’ is a Jewish nickname meaning ‘Son of Encourage­ment’ given to a Bible character whose real name was Joseph.
     In fact, the Bible suggests that God himself loves nicknames. Think of the large number of people in the Old Testament whose names he changes: Sarai became Sarah; Abram became Abraham; Jacob became Israel; Remaliah became Solomon. In each case the new name reflects something of the character of the person they’re designed to describe.
     And the Bible also shows Jesus inventing nicknames. See the wry twinkle in his eye when he describes James and John as ‘Sons of Thunder’! And then see the irony when he talks about Simon the fisherman and says, ‘I shall call you ‘Peter, the rock’.
     Peter’s nickname is ironic because he may be physically strong, and he may look like a bull-elephant, but apart from the brawn he is not at all rocklike. He is vain and enjoys his supposed status of being one of Jesus’ inner group of disciples. He is impulsive and anything but strong when it comes to sensitivity and thinking. It is this same rocklike person who denies the Jesus he loves, and who goes back to fishing straight after the crucifixion.
     We too have a nickname. Jesus wants to call us ‘Christian’ — follows of himself, the one anointed by the Spirit, the Christ. We therefore need to decide if the name is an accurate description and we genuinely desire to ‘put on Christ’ as it says in the Baptism service, or if it’s ironic and at best we pretend to be his.
    A final thought. After Pentecost, when Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit, he shifts from being anything but rock-like to being a genuine brick of a Christian. As it says in 1 Corinthians, ‘Those who have the Spirit of Christ belong to Christ’. So what’s your nickname?

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