The Israelites, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. Miriam died there, and was buried there.
Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and against Aaron. The people quarreled with Moses and said, "Would that we had died when our kindred died before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to bring us to this wretched place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; and there is no water to drink." Then Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting; they fell on their faces, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water. Thus you shall bring water out of the rock for them; thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock.
So Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he had commanded him. Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, "Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?" Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them." These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and by which he showed his holiness.
Come, ring out our joy to the Lord:
hail the rock who saves us.
Let us come before him, giving thanks,
with songs let us hail the Lord. (R./)
Come in; let us bow and bend low;
let us kneel before the God who made us
for he is our God and we the people of his pasture,
the flock that is led by his hand. (R./)
O that today you would listen to his voice!
'Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as on that day at Massah in the desert
when your fathers put me to the test;
when they tried me, though they saw my work.' (R./)
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
Two words stand out in these readings: "rock" and "flesh." In the Book of Numbers a rock on a mountainside becomes the source of drinking water to enable the people survive. In Matthew, a "human rock" becomes the foundation of the church. Yet in the gospel "flesh" indicates the limitations of human nature, unable to adequately understand Jesus. The weakness of the flesh shows up more clearly still in Numbers, when people complain about the wretched place where Moses has led them.
It seems that even Moses had his doubts, for he struck the rock twice. Yet God patiently bore both the people's murmuring and the hesitation of Moses. When the majority would trade their freedom for the "grains, figs, vines and pomegranates" of the land of slavery, God provided sweet water for his wayward children from a rock in the desert. Centuries later, when Israel was enjoying "the land flowing with milk and honey," they proved that they could not manage prosperity nearly as well as adversity.
God's covenants are not with single individuals, unless the person, like a king, represents all the people. Such a one was Simon, son of John. He expressed the faith of the disciples, for all to rally round. Therefore Jesus changed his name to "Rock", in Aramaic, Cephas; in Latin, Petrus; in English, Peter. His role was to be inspirational and faithful, a guide to lead and unite all Jesus' disciples. He was the rock on which the wise can build the rock of unity and faith. This, at least, was Matthew's concept of Peter, developed over many years, when Peter's ministry in Antioch and elsewhere had been so splendid.
To see the "flesh", the human weakness of Peter, we would have to read the gospel of Mark, who was Peter's own helper and secretary in Rome. It is a portrayal much less triumphalist, but very movingly real, of a man devoted to following Jesus.
Jesus addresses Peter in two very contrasting ways. Initially he calls him the Rock, 'You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.' But a few verses later, he calls Peter "Satan" .. "Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me."' Having addressed Peter as the rock, Jesus then identifies him as a stumbling stone, an obstacle to the Gospel, not thinking in God's way.
The fact that Peter could be a stumbling stone did not mean that he ceased to be the rock. Peter, like every human being, was complex, like a mixture of wheat and weeds as in the parable. In spite of his failings, Jesus appointed Peter as the rock, the focal point of the new community he came to form. The Lord keeps faith in us even after we have failed him. He works powerfully in and through flawed human beings. What he asks of us is that we keep trying to find and follow God's way.