“You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” – John 1:42
Sometimes you encounter someone in your life that you know you will never forget.
A little over a year ago, Lynette and I boarded a plane in Denver and flew to Munich, Germany. The first leg of our trip to Israel. I was stuffed into a middle seat and my knees were shoved into the kidneys of the person sitting in the seat right in front of me for the nine-hour flight. I felt like a size 14-foot stuffed into a pair of size 9 stilettos.
When we boarded our flight from Munich to Tel Aviv, our assigned seats were right in front of the exit row for that 5-hour flight. Again, a huge man in a little seat.
In the exit row sat a pint-size woman dressed in a long flowing black robe and habit. She had a window seat next to the exit door with no seat in front of her. She had enough leg room for Shaquille O’Neil.
I remember thinking, Dear Lord, what have I done to displease you on this flight to your homeland? Why does she get a seat with leg room she will not need, and I get stuck in the size 9, kidney-crushing, knee-bruising seat?
She said, “Sir, have you said your prayers today?”
I said, “Yes, I have spoken to God.” (thinking about my whining poor-is-me thought a moment before)
“Well, I am the answer to your prayers today,” she said.
Then she got up and gave me her seat and took mine beside Lynette. I stretched out, and despite my chagrined heart, fell asleep.
Lynette learned that she was from California and her twin sister was an actress in Hollywood. Her name was Mother Catherine and she served at The Church of Mary Magdalene which is a Russian Orthodox church located on the Mount of Olives, near the Garden of Gethsemane in East Jerusalem.
When we got off the plane in Tel Aviv, she invited us to have lunch with her at the Church of Mary Magdalene. She said the tour will take us down the route Jesus took on Palm Sunday and we would walk right past her church.
“Just knock on the big green door and ask for me and we will have lunch together,” she said.
Sure enough about a week later we were walking down that road and walked past a large green gate that was ajar and I asked one of the ladies inside if Mother Catherine was available. The lady said she didn’t know who I was talking about until she said, “Oh, Mother Katarina! No. She was unavailable right then.”
I asked her to tell Mother Katarina that a very large American man and his beautiful blond wife wanted to say hi and to thank her again for her generosity on the flight from Munich to Israel.”
She promised she would.
That is an encounter I will never forget with a woman who reminded me of Jesus.
In the New Testament, there is a place where Jesus meets the Apostle Peter for the first time. When He looks at Peter and more than that—looks into Peter—he says in essence, “You have been called Simon all of your life but from now on I am going to call you Peter.”
In the ancient near east names defined and described your life. They could be descriptive, or they could be prescriptive.
The name “Simon” meant “shifting sand.” It was a descriptive name depicting a man who vacillated and was highly impulsive. Over and over in the New Testament, we see that Peter is often the very first one to speak and the last one to think. He was often wrong, but never in doubt.
But Jesus looks Simon full in the face and gives him a prescriptive name, Cephas or Peter which means “Rock.” Peter must have gulped at the thought of becoming something so stable and strong as a rock. He understood what Jesus was doing. Jesus was saying to Peter that intimacy with me is going to change who you are. And that is exactly what happened to Peter.
Peter started out with such promise and possibilities and yet at the end of the Gospels, we find him dejected, defeated, depressed over his failure of failures in denying Jesus three times. And then on the shores of the Sea of Galilee Jesus offers him breakfast and says to him once again: Follow Me.
By the end of the story of Peter’s life, we see somebody who has become a church leader, we see someone who possesses a calm humility and deep confidence in Jesus. We see somebody who is willing to stick his neck out for the Christian story. And then at the end of things we see somebody who eventually lays down his own life for his allegiance to Jesus.
When Jesus encountered Peter for the first time he easily could have said, “Simon Peter, have you said your prayers today? Because I am the answer to your prayers.”
I get easily gigged by so much in this world. My emotions run hot and often I speak before I think. I want to encounter you at such a deep level that my thoughts are your thoughts and my words are your words. Come deeper into my life so that I can avoid the firey darts of the evil one and the arrows thrown by our culture that cause me to react in ways that dishonor the grace you have given me.