You are hereThe 'Peter' That Peter Was Meant To Be
The 'Peter' That Peter Was Meant To Be
Peter was a member of Jesus' inner circle of closest friends (Peter, James, and John); was the first-named of the disciples, the possessor of the keys of the kingdom. Peter was the leader of the church in Jerusalem, the author of epistles accepted as scripture, the mentor of the apostle Paul, and a "pillar" of the Church (Gal. 2:9). But before all this Saint Peter was a frightened, wretched man, broken by his failure and ashamed of his weakness; a runaway disciple who three times vociferously denied knowledge of his lord, Jesus. For about three years Peter had followed Jesus. He'd been among the amazed seeing the miracles Jesus performed. Peter was there to see when the blind were made to see, and the deaf were made to hear again. He'd seen the lame walk and heard the mute speak. He'd seen the dead rise to life again.
Peter was there, also, to listen as Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of Heaven was open and available to all. The Kingdom of Heaven was within them all if only they'd have ears to hear and receive the words of Jesus.
Peter was among Jesus' closest friends. When the crowds of men and women were too much, Jesus would retreat to spend some time with his twelve chosen. But sometimes even these twelve were too many and Jesus would go away with just three: Peter, James and John. Peter, as one of Jesus' trusted and beloved friends had seen things that the other disciples and the crowds had not. He'd seen Jesus transfigured on the mountain top, he'd seen Jesus raise the dead. He'd seen so much, been valued so highly by Jesus.
This Peter, who had been a humble fisherman with his brother on the Sea of Galilee, was a close follower of Jesus of Nazareth. Peter, the rough and tumble, blue collar worker with calloused hands and a sun parched face, had given up his trade, and come away from his family in Capernaum to follow the teacher.
And though he'd come to recognize in those three years that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One of God, he still had very little idea what that meant or how it would change his life. Jesus had taught the disciples quite plainly that he would suffer and die – but that his death would be followed by a resurrection. He would be raised from the dead by God.
At Jesus' last supper with his chosen twelve – his closest friends and trusted companions – he continued to teach them, one last time about his upcoming passion- that is, about his suffering and death… He told them that he would be arrested and that they – his closest friends and trusted companions – would all stumble and fall away from him in his hour of direst and most desperate need. He quoted from the prophet Zechariah:
Awake, O sword, against my shepherd
Against the man who stands next to me,"
Says the LORD of hosts,
Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered…
Peter, ever hotheaded and impetuous, refused to let this dark prediction pass without speaking out, "Even though all the others fall away, yet I will not!" This is Peter at his best and his worst. He knows the good he wants to do. He knows the good he wants to believe about himself.
We all do this. I know the "me" I want to be…. 'I will do this,' I pledge, and 'I will never do that!' But…
Jesus interrupts Peter's outburst, "In solemn truth I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows twice, even you, Peter, will deny me three times." Jesus knew the 'Peter' that Peter wanted to be, but also knew the 'Peter' that Peter would be. Jesus knew that while the others would "fall away," Peter would actually deny knowing Jesus.
Peter, however, objected. "If I have to die with you," he said vehemently, violently, "I will not disown you!" And the other disciples, they too objected to Jesus in the same way.
They were afraid. And who could dismiss their fears? Jesus certainly didn't. He had tired to warn and comfort them, "All of you will stumble… but after I am raised up, I will go to Galilee ahead of you." Peter and the other disciples had heard him give prediction of his death and their failure, but had missed his promise of resurrection and return.
Later that evening, as Jesus struggled in prayer, wrestling against the cup of poison that God had for him to accept, his friends slept – their eyes were heavy, and they were worn out from grief. When Jesus found them sleeping he single out Peter, "Simon are you sleeping? Were you unable to watch for one hour? You must watch and pray that you may be spared the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
Jesus knew that Peter's spirit was willing to follow, but that Peter's flesh was weak. Jesus knew the 'Peter' that Peter wanted so desperately to be.
When the temple guards came with Judas to arrest Jesus with their clubs and spears; their torches providing a smoky light to the dark garden, Jesus accept his fate, and allowed himself to be taken so that "the scriptures might be fulfilled." Peter lashed out with his sword, striking the high priest's slave and severing his ear from his head. Then all the disciples abandoned him. They all fled, just as Jesus said they would. The shepherd was struck and the sheep were scattered into the darkness.
Jesus was taken by the guards to Caiaphas' house in order to be tried by the leaders and teachers of the law. Meanwhile Peter was lurking about in the courtyard below. One of the high priest's maids saw him warming himself by the fire. She looked at him closely and realized that she knew him… "You were there too, with the Nazarene, this Jesus" But he denied it and moved out to the outer courtyard. But she followed and began again to tell the bystanders, "This man is one of them." And once more Peter denied it: "I know nothing. I don't know what you mean." But the crowd wouldn't let it go. They pressed again, "Certainly you are one of them. You're a Galilean, your accent betrays you."
Peter responded angrily, fearfully, "I do not know the man you're talking about and I'll be damned if I'm lying!" Immediately the cock crowed, and Peter realized what he'd done. He ran away and wept bitterly.
Peter is here at his lowest. He'd run away from danger, when he swore he'd stand firm. He'd left his friend to the hands of cruel enemies. He'd lied repeatedly about knowing him. Peter couldn't even say Jesus' name: "I don't know the man you're talking about!"
All his ideals, all his boasts, all his aspirations were knocked out of place that night. There was nothing left of the 'Peter' that Peter thought he could be.
The next day Jesus was crucified.
And the next he lay in the grave, wrapped tightly in the grave-clothes, and a large stone barricading the entrance.
We're all a bit like Peter. I know the 'me' that I'd like to be. I'd like to be clever. I'd like to be honest. I'd like to be insightful. I'd like to be brave. I'd like to be pure. I'd like to be upright. But when a test comes; when a danger rises up from the darkness, like Peter I'm running away and weeping bitterly because of my failure to be the 'me' I'd like to be.
The Apostle Paul knew this feeling too: "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do." (Romans 7: 19)
"Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (7: 24)
The next day…
Mark (relying on Peter's memories) doesn't tell us much about the days after the resurrection of Jesus, but in John's gospel we read about Jesus' appearance to the disciples on the shore of the sea of Galilee.
There Peter was reinstated to his master; restored to a relationship of love with the master he had denied and abandoned.
Three times Jesus asked him, "Peter do you love me." Peter's answer, "Yes, Lord, of course I love you." A second time, "Yes, of course I love you." The third time he was hurt – broken. I have to believe he recognized the repetition of the question as the undoing of his triple denial. "Lord, you know everything; you know I love you." Jesus responded, "Feed my sheep."
Jesus knew everything about Peter. He knew the "Peter" that Peter wanted to be, and, what's more, he knew the "Peter" that Peter was created to be. Jesus did not leave Peter as the broken wretched man. He was transformed from a fearful, angry, runaway disciple into the bold promoter of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Peter was transformed by his relationship with Jesus. He was made into the "Peter" that Peter was made to be.