I’m convinced that “swapping” is a way to grow in holiness. It always has been, but it just has never really been referred to by such terminology. I think usually, it’s more common to hear about “opening oneself to receive”– and I by no means disagree with that. As Catholics, everything about our faith points to Christ and accessing his grace. We cannot be disciples of Christ without it… I’d even go as far as to say that we cannot be happy without grace. Opening ourselves is key… but we have to make room for the grace as well– right? That’s why I like the image of a “grace swap”… surrendering my weakness/fears/failures/sins and trading them for God’s grace. It requires more of us than simply opening the door and letting grace in… it compels us to let go of the lies we believe about ourselves.
I see many such instances in Scripture. I like to think of them as “swap moments.” Sometimes swap moments are like an explosion (think Saint Paul’s conversion), but more often, it’s quiet like the First Reading at Mass two weeks ago (1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a). Elijah is on the mountain, and the Lord tells him to go outside the cave so that he can witness the Lord as he passes. A strong wind blows past… but the Lord was not in the wind. Then an earthquake struck… but the Lord was not in the earthquake. Next, a fire emerged… but the Lord was not in the fire. Lastly, a tiny whispering sound passed… and the Lord was in that tiny whisper.
Grace is not usually offered to us loudly… it’s not a billboard. It’s not someone pounding at your door so loudly that you have to answer it. It’s soft…light…personal… like a post-it note someone leaves on your desk specifically for you, or a beautiful invitation received via snail-mail. It’s quiet. It’s humble.
We see this truth in today’s Gospel. This is a pivotal moment in Jesus’ public life, and because of it’s significance, it is emphasized heavily within the Catholic realm. However, because it is heavily emphasized, the passage has become like white noise to many of us. I know it had for me… so when I was actually studying Scripture, I was dumbfounded by the major “swap” it contains.
Now, Simon Peter was actually not known as “Simon Peter” yet. Matthew is writing this Gospel at a time when Christianity was spreading rapidly and Peter was very well known as the head of the Church. No one knew Peter as “Simon.” Matthew refers to him as “Simon Peter” so that these readers will recognize him within the story. In reality, when this event was occurring, Peter’s name was Simon, and just Simon– not “Simon Peter”. This is important to know in order to understand what is actually happening…
Jesus asks his disciples, “who do people say that [I am]?” It’s Simon, who not only has the guts, but confidence in the truth of who Jesus really is and insists, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
You guys… this is a HUGE deal. Jesus’ humanity is just like ours. In his humanity, he also would have yearned to belong, and to be seen for who he truly was. He has been performing miracles, healing, teaching incredible things… and in his humanity, he is wondering… “are they getting it? Do they see who I am? Do they get why I am here?”
In this moment, Jesus discovers that Simon gets it. SIMON–the simple fisherman. He was not an especially learned man (he received very little — if any — formal education). We know that he was not an especially holy man (“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” Luke 5:8). But what I think is cool, specifically because of the next words out of Jesus’ mouth, is that Simon’s name actually means “listen” in Hebrew.
People’s names play a big role in the meaning of Scripture passages. This sometimes gets lost on us modern readers because names don’t necessarily have that deep of a meaning for us now. We might be named after a saint or a person, but that’s probably the extent of it. Our parents don’t usually name us in an attempt to explain who we are to the world. However, at the time Scripture is being written, this was actually the case. A person’s name is their identity as an individual; it tells others something about their very essence. This truth is pretty obvious if we look at Jesus– his name means, “God with us.”
Continuing with my point, Simon’s name means “listen.” Now, whether listening was a strength or a weakness of Simon’s, or if he was someone who his parents thought people should listen to, I don’t know and thus can’t really say. Honestly, I think he fits the bill of all three. Quite often our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses…
So, it is Simon… aka “listen”… who declares Jesus to be the Messiah. And Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon bar Jona! For flesh has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (RSV translation for anyone who is particular about these things).
Did you catch that? He said, “…flesh and blood have not revealed this to you….” That means that Simon did not recognize this truth because of his own abilities. It was God the Father who was working through Simon. The Father, through the Holy Spirit, had inspired Simon… and Simon listened.
It wasn’t his intelligence that helped him to recognize the Messiah… it wasn’t his holiness… it was grace. It was the grace of the moment. Simon was open to the grace and received it willingly… swapping out any doubt or inability to “listen” that he may have had.
Because of this grace, Simon changes. God shows us this internal transformation by actually changing Simon’s name from “listen” to Peter, or “rock” in hebrew. Again, the significance of the name change here is heavy. The only time that God changes people’s names within Scripture is to point out an internal transformation that cannot be seen by the naked eye. The name change helps us to “sense” this transformation with our ears.
There are ample examples of this in the Old Testament, but just to name a few:
- Abram,“Father of many,” became Abraham, “Father of GREAT many”; symbolizing what God had done for him, giving him numerous descendants
- Sarai, “Argumentative,” became Sarah, “Princess”; symbolizing that she is one from whom many Kings would descend
- Jacob, “Supplanter” (someone who takes something that isn’t his), becomes Israel, “He who wrestles with God”; symbolizing the shift from being identified as a non-virtuous person, to someone who actually makes an effort to do the right thing.
Simon becomes Peter– “the rock,” the solid foundation upon which Jesus eventually builds his Church. Peter is not the rock because of his own strengths and capabilities… Peter is the rock because he lets God work through him.
That is what The Swap is all about.