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By Brad Miner   
Monday, 18 July 2011

My favorite moment in Scripture: Matthew 16:18. You know how people ask what book you’d want if you were alone on a desert isle? I’d choose the Bible, of course. But if the challenge were to survive with just one page torn from the book, it’d be pages 15-16 from my Ignatius New Testament (actually one leaf; you can’t rip out just one “page”): The ending of Chapter 15 (the Lord feeds the four thousand) through the beginning of 18 (“Whoever humbles himself as this child . . .”). Chapter 17 includes Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration – and the often-overlooked miracle of the piscine shekel.

The heart of Chapter 16 is the founding of the Church and the renaming of Shimon bar Jonah of Bethsaida, which Matthew oddly foreshadows. The Lord has asked, “Who do people say that the Son of man is?” and the answers are wild: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah. But when he asks for the Apostles’ opinions, Matthew writes:

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.

The foreshadowing: “Simon Peter replied . . .” comes before Jesus has bestowed Simon with the nickname: in essence, Rock. Not atypical of Biblical usage, in which past, present, and future are undifferentiated. Everything happens in eternity.

But I’ve left off the most important thing. Jesus completes the “institution” quoted above with this:  “and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

I’m not done discussing these pages ripped from Scripture, but the gist of what I want to convey is this: look to Matthew 16:18 whenever you are feeling discouraged about our slippery-slide culture or about the Church under siege. When Jesus comes again, the Church of Rome – I have no doubt, in Rome – will be rock-solid, having overcome every challenge, and not just Satan or the Church’s many enemies, but also its fickle followers and its own degeneracy.

As my confirmation name, I chose “Bernard,” after the great Cistercian saint of Clairvaux. I decided against “Peter,” because it seemed pretentious to choose the name of the Rock, the greatest Apostle, the first pope, the man to whom were given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” and the power of binding and loosing. I’m lucky to be able to tie and untie my shoelaces. But I hadn’t been thinking about Peter in power, but of the often-addled fellow in these pages from Matthew.

Oreochromis galilaeus: St. Peter’s fish

It was soon after Peter’s acknowledgment of the Messiah that Jesus began (“from that time” on) to speak about his coming death (and resurrection) and Peter rebuked Him, telling the Lord to avoid the danger in Jerusalem. Jesus called him “Satan,” saying Peter was “not on the side of God, but of men.” Some Rock. And it gets worse.

After “six days” – and after clear explication by Jesus of the way of the cross, for Him, the Apostles, and us – He takes Peter, John, and James with Him to a mountain top (Tabor or possibly Nebo), where He is Transfigured. His “face shone like the sun,” with Moses and Elijah beside him, and the first thing the “Rock” does is walk right up to the Word of God and the two great prophets and propose to erect three tabernacles, one for each, an expression of their blessed equality, but before Jesus has a chance to shake His head (not that I’m saying He would have), the Father speaks – as He had when the Baptist poured Jordan river water over Christ’s head – and the three trembling, prostrate Apostles have their first real taste of the fear of God. Jesus comforts them, but still they have no faith, not even the size of a mustard seed: Ÿ

Yet those three (with eight of the other apostles) eventually found their ways to sainthood and most to martyrdom, which is to say they avoided the gates of hell. I suppose their Pentecost was rather more transformative than our Confirmations, yet at the start none was any smarter, braver, or holier than you or I.

Now that shekel story: Jesus and the Apostles are in Capernaum, where there was a temple tax to be paid, one half shekel per head, which the collectors ask for from Peter. “Does not your teacher pay the tax?” Jesus, probably visiting the home of Peter’s mother-in-law, asks the Big Fisherman if earthly kings take taxes “from their sons or from others?” Peter gets it: “From others.” Jesus replies: “Then the sons are free.” So should the Son of God be. Still He sends Peter to the Sea of Galilee, telling him to throw his line into the water, promising that the first fish he hooks will have a shekel in its mouth, and instructing him to give said coin to the taxmen “for me and for yourself.” The fish was probably of the tilapia family, and is known today as St. Peter’s fish.

It’s known that the male tilapia carries its young in its mouth, and it was probably this fish – of which the Apostles had just two – that helped to feed those four thousand souls.

So . . . what leaf would you take to a desert island?

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing,  a senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. One of his books, The Compleat Gentleman, was recently published in a revised edition.

 The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (9)Add Comment
written by peterbrown, July 18, 2011
Nice piece Brad. The fish coin story is a very odd one for many reasons. If it is a's unlike any others in the Jesus tradition. This one would be in a category by itself...the only miracle that Jesus himself personally benefited from. Indeed, as a miracle it seems to have somewhat disturbing implications.. Should we be praying that our refrigerator be filled with cash too when we wake up tomorrow morning to, you know, pay our taxes?

Maybe its not really a miracle though. We don't see Peter actually retrieving money from the fish. Maybe the point is just that the indignity of paying taxes has to be suffered until the kingdom fully arrives when we can live tax free. This is why I teach the story as a one of the three Petrine stories in Matthew that hint at Peter's role in the coming of the kingdom...he reminds us that one day all the children of the kingdom will live duty free!
written by Grump, July 18, 2011
Stranded on a desert island, the one book I'd like to have is "How to build a Boat"
written by DV Andrews, July 18, 2011
Following on the Chesterton line of a desert island book 'A Practical Guide to Ship Building'...the one scripture page is probably on how Noah was to build the Ark, no? I expect to sink like a rock sooner than Peter did if I set foot on the surface of the sea... If I can't take GKC's advice on bringing the full text of the 'Ship Building' book and since I'd probably sink like a rock even sooner than Simon Peter on the water's surface...I'm going with the leaf in Genesis that tells Noah how to build an ark.
written by BHG, July 18, 2011
I have to confess, this was the first thing I thought of, but the reality is I need to have Luke 10:14 closer to hand: "Martha, Martha, you are worried and anxious over many things...Mary has chosen the one thing necessary and it will not be taken from her..."
written by Betty, July 18, 2011
Exodus 17, for the fresh water from the rock.
written by Sharron, July 18, 2011
Psalm 50
written by debby, July 18, 2011
so this why i love tilapia!
my first inclination would be to get a Bible with the smallest print so i could take the most...the Epistles of John were my first bite, except that's what i'm reading right now so it is presently my favorite...or the Gospel of John, esp where Jesus prays His High-Priestly prayer before the Passion, "Father, make them one as You and I are one..." However, Mary Magdalene's anointing His feet is a great one to contemplate, but then there is the Martha & Mary dinner party before the Passion. Maybe if i'm ever stranded on a desert island or in a concentration camp, the Holy Spirit will help me remember, for "Thy Word i have hidden in my heart, that i might not sin against Thee."
i would definitely not be bringing any ship building books for "surely, surely i say unto thee," i'd be shark bait!
i hope my soul would find itself united to St. John the Beloved in my stranded state......;)i wouldn't take Leviticus....
written by Laura, July 18, 2011
Luke 11- Beginning with the Lord's Prayer and continuing with "...ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." This would bring to mind the perfection of our relation with our Creator as Christ taught us in the Lord's Prayer. It would recall to my mind how in Genesis 18 Abraham first taught us to pray. There would be much time for conversation with Our Lord and doing His will.
written by Howard, July 19, 2011
John 1, the Last Gospel.

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