Why Peter?

Earlier this week I was watching a film about Jesus.  As I watched I was struck, in a new way, by Peter’s journey.  Peter is usually pegged as zealous, and rightly so.  There is a fierceness in him.  He is always ready with a stark statements (i.e. “You are the son of God”) and is ready to back up his words with extreme actions (i.e. chopping a guy’s ear off).  If Peter had a “best of/most memorable moments” it would definitely be when he walked on water with Jesus.  I still find that miracle particularly strange.  As I watched Peter step out onto the water, my attention was fixed.  I knew what would come next: his fear and subsequent sinking into the water.  In that moment my heart resonated with his experience.  I am so willing to go wherever the Lord sends me.  England?  Let’s go!  3-week retreat?  Of course!  But then I arrive and the moment things go wrong, I am freaking out.  “Lord, where have you gone?”  I’m suddenly sinking into the water.

Once in a sermon I heard Peter and Judas compared to each other.  This is a shocking thought, isn’t it?  I mean, why would you want to compare any of the apostles to Judas?  If we’re looking at this story through a traditional narrative lens, then he is clearly one of the baddies.  Yet, these two men both, in their own ways, betray the Lord.  Judas gives Jesus up for 30 pieces of silver, while Peter gives him up to save face.  Peter does this less than 24 hours after declaring that he will lay down his life for Jesus.  Both run away after their respective betrayals.  Judas chose to end his life.  This is where the similarities end.  We never hear the story, but somehow Peter ends up back with the apostles.  He even runs, (remember that impetuous nature), to the tomb upon report that it is vacant.  Peter is welcomed back by the other apostles.  That seems like a nice, forgiving sort of story.  But it doesn’t finish here.

The gospel of John ends with a sort of book-end story of Jesus and Peter (John 21).  They connect over fishing, just as they first did in Matthew 4:18-20.  In typical Peter fashion, he jumps out of the boat and swims to shore to be with Jesus.    Then Jesus does the unthinkable.  He has Peter oversee the church (“Tend my lambs”).  In the Catholic tradition he is considered the first pope.  This realization always causes me to pause.  It is hard to fully comprehend.  Surely you would give the position to John, who faithfully remained at the cross, who accepted responsibility for Jesus’ mother.  No.  In a beautiful flourish of grace, Jesus looks to Peter.  Zealous, impulsive, inconsistent Peter.

I so often like to think that I will faithfully follow Jesus, never doubting his goodness or ability.  This week, I am again reminded of how quick I am to doubt.  However, in my unbelief I am not met by exasperation or contempt (as I would likely respond were I in God’s place).    Instead I am wrapped up into a Snuggie of grace (I know, snuggies are ridiculous, yet I secretly thing they look so comforting).  I feel properly humbled.  Humbled as I remember that I am a child in need of my father’s help.  Humbled as I know at a deeper level that I am still so often a stranger to the way of grace.  Humbled and stumbling back to the cross.

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