Recently I had the opportunity to visit a petrified forest. It was amazing to see the remains of these tree trunks that are about 40 million years old. Once in their wood form they were so erodible, but now, having become rock, they are capable of withstanding the fiercest winds and rains. The petrification of the wood did not happen overnight. The process of changing from wood to rock took millions of years. First, the wood had to be buried under ground. Then ground waters seeping through it carried chemicals and minerals that transformed its wood substance into rock. While the appearance of wood is there, the substance is changed.
My thoughts turned to Simon. He was that erodible wood, yet Jesus turned to him and said, ‘You are rock, rock firm enough for the foundation stone of my community.’ The character of Simon Peter that we build from the gospel’s references to him does not portray the properties of rock. We have our list of Peter’s flaws. He was impetuous, often said what seemed like silly things, mostly spoke before he thought, promised the utmost in fidelity, but utterly failed the test. Peter wouldn’t have made it to the top of our lists for elections or selections.
But then, Jesus saw things differently from our usual way of perceiving things. He even warned us against judging from appearances. Jesus knew that Simon, whose name meant ‘he who has heard’, was indeed no rock, but he also knew that Simon Peter had the right conditions to become a rock. He was erodible, permeable and porous. Jesus knew that because of that Simon would be open to the changes that needed to take place within him so that he would be able to withstand the fiercest storms. By allowing the life and message of Jesus permeate his heart, by allowing the strong wind of the Spirit erode the crumbling surfaces of his life, by allowing the energies of God seep through and transform his being, Simon, the one who had heard but wavered, became Peter, the one transformed into the rock of steadfastness.
I have no doubt that Jesus would want us all to be that rock of steadfastness, that rock that carries within so much of the history of life. To take up the invitation to become that rock demands our shedding the skins of our own armor. It demands allowing ourselves to become erodible, permeable and porous. Only then will the life and message of Jesus permeate our hearts, the strong wind of the Spirit erode the crumbling surfaces of our lives, and the energies of God seep through and transform out total being.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP