When Peter meets Jesus the first time, Peter is not yet called Peter—his name is Simon. And when they meet, Jesus does two highly unusual things.
First, he shows Simon that he knows who he is before he even opens his mouth. “He [Andrew] brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John.“ (John 1:42) So Jesus knows Simon. Simon’s name preceded him.
Names are who we are, but our parents give them to us. So who the world knows us as is not even our decision. The world identifies us in other ways outside of our control. Ethnicities. Gender. Height and weight. Socio-economic status. Even hair color (or lack of hair!).
And when we finally get to color and shade who WE want to be, the world redefines what our self-made image actually means. “He’s just a plumber.” “She only went to a state college.” “Have you seen who she hangs out with?”
And at first glance, Simon was not much to look at. He was a nobody. A hayseed. He was a fisherman. He smelled sweaty and salty. Maybe he was semiliterate. Standing in front of Jesus for the first time, Simon didn’t get a chance to define himself. It had already been done by the world.
But then Jesus does something even more unusual - he gives him an entirely new name!
“You are Simon, son of John – but you will be called Cephas (which means Peter).”
Normally, nicknames are given by someone who shares a special bond with you. Jesus cuts right through any formality, any distance, any preconceived notion of who Simon thought he was about to meet and says, “You! I know you so well and love you so deeply that in my heart and mind we’re already at the nickname stage! You might be Simon to the world and just some fisherman to them - but to me, you are Peter. And I will make you something so much bigger and so much more substantial than you ever imagined.”
What a vision! Jesus immediately rejects whatever the world burdened on Simon, and instead projects onto him who he COULD BE. Incredibly, Jesus does the same thing to us. He sees us BOTH as we are and also as we could be. In his eyes, we are not less because of our histories and backgrounds, and neither is our history and past eliminated from the equation of who we are. Rather, it becomes complete in relationship with him.