St. Peter Offers Lessons For Everyone
I love St. Peter; so human, such a bungler. During the time he spent with Jesus, he reflected what so many of us struggle with - total trust in God. When the fishermen are out in the sea and a storm develops, naturally, they are frightened. Peter spots Jesus walking toward their boat and impulsively jumps out to meet him. Suddenly, he realizes his seemingly foolish act (wouldn’t we all feel that way?!), loses his trust in Jesus and begins to sink. Jesus, understanding Peter’s lack of faith, stretches out His hand and saves him from certain death.
On another occasion, Peter hears Jesus tell of His future suffering and death. What does Peter do? Thinking in human terms, he basically advises Jesus, “Don’t do it!” Jesus replies, “Get thee away from me, Satan!” Peter, like most of us, does not comprehend the larger picture. Jesus must suffer to save us from our sins. It is at this point that I begin to admire Peter. After Jesus’ admonishment, Peter doesn’t leave or take offense. No; Peter continues to follow Jesus, perhaps contemplating his own need to change.
Later he, James and John witness the Transfiguration of Jesus and the appearance of Moses and Elijah. Following this awe-inspiring scene, pragmatic Peter suggests the apostles set up tents for Jesus and two very influential men in the Old Testament. Matthew reports that “while [Peter] was still speaking,” a voice from the clouds says, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased; listen to him.”
What was Peter thinking? Setting up tents? We do not know how Jesus responded. Maybe he smiled and shook his head realizing that the future first Pope of the Catholic Church still needed work. We do know that Jesus recognized in Peter the qualities necessary to lead the new Apostolic Church through its difficult first years in spite of Peter’s many foibles.
The Bible then tells us of Peter’s final and greatest failures – his denials of Christ after Jesus’ arrest. Less than a day before this serious transgression, when at the Last Supper, Jesus predicted Peter’s betrayals, and Peter vowed he would never deny Him. Most likely Peter was deeply offended by that statement. After all, he had been a loyal follower for three years, leaving both his home and his occupation.
In fact, one would think that statement would have steeled Peter even more to prove his loyalty. But, in that fateful moment, fear of bodily harm or death weighed heavier than his love for Christ. How Peter’s heart must have ached when Jesus turned and looked at him with loving, merciful eyes as He heard his apostle utter those words of denial a third time.
Fear also most likely played a significant role in Peter’s absence on the road to Calgary and at the foot of the Cross. But I wonder if it was shame and guilt as well. For it was Peter who had openly declared, “You are the Lord, the Son of God. You have the words of everlasting life.” Realizing that he denied Christ at the moment of His greatest need surely caused Peter great sorrow. However, fear, guilt and shame did not triumph.
After the first Pentecost, Peter was wholly convinced and committed to the mission of the New Covenant and the new Church. Taking charge in the Upper Room, he fearlessly spoke out about the risen Lord even though he had been warned of the consequences of prison or death in doing so.
Peter understood that in His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus conquered death so that all may live eternally if we choose to follow Christ. Peter’s total faith in God’s word conquered his earthly fears.
In Peter, we see both a model of our own human frailties, and of God’s boundless love and mercy for us when we repent and return to Him. Whether we baby-step our way or take the polar bear plunge into total trust in God’s word, Peter is our assurance that God is patient with us. Each time we fall, we need only to willingly accept God’s forgiveness and help, and we too will become Christ’s holy disciples here on earth.
Kristine and her husband Jim Schroeder are members of St. Boniface Parish. They have 4 grown children and 20 grandchildren.