The Rock on which the Church is built
In the Gospel Reading, Christ tells Peter that Peter is the rock on which Christ will found his church. And, Jesus promises, the gates of hell will not prevail against this rock or against the church built on it.
This is a comforting thought, isn’t it? In the darkness of the world, there is something—the apostle Peter, the Church—that evil cannot wreck!
The problem is that it so often looks as if the gates of hell have prevailed against Christ’s church.
Actually, the problem begins with Peter. The apostle, who was supposed to be the rock of the Church, betrayed the Lord he loved in his Lord’s worst need. A betrayal like that seems to have something hellish about it, doesn’t it?
As far as that goes, how does Peter differ from Judas? Judas betrayed Christ too, of course. In fact, the Gospel of John says that Satan entered into Judas before he went to the Pharisees to conspire with them to get Jesus (John 13:27). There is certainly something hellish about the treachery of Judas if Satan entered into him.
So why not think that the gates of hell prevailed against Peter too, in his betrayal of Christ? What is left of Jesus’ promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail against Peter or against Christ’s Church?
But notice that there is a difference between Judas and Peter.
You might think the difference is that Peter repented and Judas didn’t. But there you would be mistaken. The Gospel of Matthew makes it clear that Judas repented, too (Matthew 27:3).
So, here is the real difference between them. When Judas saw the sin of his betrayal for what it was, he killed himself. He threw himself away as hopeless, as irredeemable. But Peter came back to Christ. He cleaved to the Lord he loved even in the face of his own betrayal of him.
And that is why Peter is the rock on which the Church is founded. The Church is not a collection of the sinless, and it was not meant to be. The Church was founded on Peter, who loved, and sinned, and held on to the Lord anyway. The gates of Hell cannot prevail against this kind of love.
This is a deeply comforting thought.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University