Summary: When we refuse to let go of our desire for revenge, when we refuse to forgive as God told us to do, we are really telling God that we don’t trust him to resolve the situation correctly, and that we can do his job better than he can.
(Other Scripture passages)
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15
Psalm 32 or 32:1-8
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen. (Psalm 19:14)
In our Galatians reading today, someone named Cephas came to Antioch, someone important enough in the early church for Paul to feel it necessary to confront him.
Paul is talking about the Apostle Peter. But why is he referring to him as “Cephas” instead of Peter?
The real question is “Why is he called Peter in the first place?”
In the Gospel of Matthew 16:13-19, Jesus gives that nickname to a disciple named Simon:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
St. Jerome wrote, “It is not that Peter and Cephas signify different things, but what we would call in Latin and Greek petra (‘stone’) the Hebrews and Syrians both, because of the affinity of their languages, call cephas.” (Epistle to the Galatians I.2.II)
Calling Simon “Peter” is a play on words. To keep the same meaning of “rock” to Paul’s listeners and readers in Galatia, he referred to the apostle by a word that means the same as Simon’s Greek nickname: Cephas. It also refers to “head,” and is where we get the English terms for the head and brain like “encephalitis or encephalogram.”
Peter was a respected leader of the new Jewish sect, the Way, which had chosen to follow Jesus. They did not leave Judaism and become Christians, they saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the promise of Judaism, the Messiah. They were completed or fulfilled Jews. They understood Jesus died for their sins and the sins of others. But God’s forgiveness had a few difficulties from a Jewish perspective.
God had claimed the Israelites as his chosen people. So logically, which is the key element of most Rabbinic study, if God chose to save Gentiles also, he would first require them to become Jews since Jews are his chosen people.
It made good, logical sense. The problem is that God’s actions don’t always make good logical sense to us.
Becoming Jewish was not such a big deal for people who were young children or female. Some changes in diet, and learning about the scriptures we now call the Old Testament was that cumbersome a requirement for conversion.
Adult males faced a much more severe requirement: circumcision. Remember, is the first century, medical knowledge was rather limited, and there was no surgical anesthetic or sterile field to reduce infection.
This painful and unnecessary requirement for Gentile salvation was hampering Paul’s evangelistic efforts. Since households were controlled by adult males, unless the father converted, his household remained pagan in the eyes of the Jewish Christians.
But Peter knew better. He had a vision of various types of unclean food on a white sheet, with Jesus telling him that what God has made clean man can no longer call unclean. Right after that, he sent Peter to visit the Roman centurion Cornelius through direction in another vision. Peter found Cornelius, told him the Gospel, and the entire household was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Peter understood that Jesus planned to saved non-Jews as well as Jews. Peter had entered Gentiles’ homes, forbidden for Rabbis and good Jews, and ate with them — which was especially forbidden.
Meals were a spiritual bonding among the participants, and no good Jew would bond spiritually with a Gentile. Jews referred to Gentiles as “dogs.” But Peter understood that there were no Gentiles of Jews in the Kingdom of Heaven, only followers of Jesus.
That’s why Paul was so upset with Peter, and felt strongly enough to tell the church in Galatia about it. Not to embarrass or diminish Peter — there was no doubt in anyone’s mind about Peter’s authority form Jesus — but rather to show them that the debate over Gentiles needing to first become Jews before being saved had been resolved totally.
For Peter to no longer eat with his Gentile brothers so as not to irritate his Jewish brothers was wrong. After Paul’s confrontation with Peter, and his confrontation with the Jewish Christian leaders like James, the Council of Jerusalem issued the following decree, which is described in detail in the Book of Acts (15:19-21):