Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Theology: Peter as an example for us (Part 1)

The Apostles were present for countless miracles and, as Jesus's trusted circle, received instruction into the meanings behind his parables. I'd like to focus, though, on Peter's experiences with Jesus:
  • Jesus called Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew from their occupations as fishermen to be his first Apostles (Matt 4:18-22; Luke 5:1-11)
  • Jesus cured Simon's mother-in-law (Matt 8:14-15)
  • Jesus brought Simon, James, and John into the house of Jairus whose daughter he resurrected (Matt 9:23-25; Mark 5:22-24,35-42)
  • Jesus called Simon out of the boat to walk on the ocean, but Simon faltered (Matt 14:22-33)
  • Simon confessed that Jesus has "the words of eternal life" (John 6:68)
  • Simon professed, through the grace of God, that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God" and Jesus names Simon "Peter" (meaning "rock") (Matt 16:13-19)
  • Shortly thereafter, Simon tried to defy God's will for Jesus, and Jesus called him "Satan" (Matt 16:20-23)
  • Jesus took Simon, with James and John, up a mountain, where they witnessed his transfiguration (Matt 17:1-8)
  • Jesus tested Simon when questioned about paying the temple tax (Matt 17:24-27)
  • Simon asked Jesus how often he must forgive his brother (Matt 18:21-22)
  • Simon asked Jesus what the Apostles will receive for their sacrifices in following Jesus (Matt 19:27-29)
  • Simon questioned Jesus's intent when Jesus prepared to wash the Apostles' feet (John 13:5-10)
  • Simon promised Jesus that his faith shall not be shaken, but Jesus foretold Simon's denial (Matt 26:31-35; Luke 22:31-34; John 13:36-38)
  • Simon, James, and John fell asleep while Jesus prayed in Gethsemane (Matt 26:36-46)
  • Simon defended Jesus in Gethsemane with a sword (Luke 22:49-50; John 18:10)
  • Simon betrayed Jesus three times (Matt 26:69-75)
  • Simon noticed the empty burial cloths at the tomb, and was later visited by the risen Christ (Luke 24:12,33-34)
  • Simon received a personal commission from Jesus to tend to Jesus's flock (John 21:15-19)
  • After Pentecost, Simon performed many miracles through the power of Christ, although he did suffer a case of hypocrisy regarding the issue of the necessity of Gentiles following the Judaic law (Gal 2:11-14)
As you're probably aware, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes something called the "primacy of Peter", the concept that Peter had a distinguished position among the Apostles, which is one of the foundations upon which is based the institution of the Papacy (Peter being the first Pope, having a successor down through the centuries). Here are only some examples of the Scriptural evidence:
  • he is the most frequently named Apostle in the New Testament
  • he and his brother Andrew are the first Apostles
  • he (along with a couple other Apostles) is often taken aside for specific revelation (such as the Transfiguration and the resurrection of Jairus's daughter)
  • he is named Peter by Christ (the only Apostle to receive such an honor, as the bestowing of a new name on a person is a very important sign in Biblical literature)
  • he alone was called out by Jesus to walk on the water
  • he often speaks on behalf of the Apostles
  • he is used by Jesus as a spokesman when asked about paying the tax
  • he is prayed for by Jesus that his faith may not fail, and Jesus charges him to strengthen the other Apostles
  • he is questioned by Jesus in Gethsemane for the failure of the Apostles present to stay awake
  • he is named personally by an angel at the tomb after the Resurrection
  • he was the spokesman for all who received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, preaching to the crowd that had gathered
  • Paul stayed with him for two weeks before beginning his ministry, even after Paul received a revelation from Christ
But let us instead focus on Peter's faults, because it is in Peter's sinful human nature that we see the whole picture of the man chosen by Christ to shepherd the early church. On multiple occasions, shortly after Peter says or does something truly blessed, he follows it by blundering magnificently.
Walking on water, drowning in doubt
(Matt 13:22-33)
After the miracle of the fish and loaves, Matthew records an incident that occurred late at night on the sea by Capernaum. Jesus's disciples were crossing it by ship at night when the water and wind became rough. Then they saw Jesus walking across the water to them. Although Jesus greeted them, they were still unsure, and Simon told Jesus to command him to walk upon the water to him. Simon did walk upon the water, but then he noticed just how strong the winds were and began to sink. He cried out to Jesus, "Lord, save me!" (Matt 14:30) Jesus caught him by the arm and brought him into the boat, and asked Simon, "O man of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matt 14:31) What happened to the faith Simon had as he stepped onto the water?
Peter the Rock, Peter the Adversary
(Matt 16:13-23)
Jesus asked his disciples "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" (Matt 16:13). His disciples reported the popular opinions, that he was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or some other prophet. Then Jesus asks Simon "But who do you say that I am?" to which he responds "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matt 16:15-16) Jesus then tells Simon that this revelation was granted to him by the Father in heaven, and not by men. Jesus then names Simon "Peter" ("Kephas", meaning "rock") and tells him that "on this rock I will build my church" (Matt 16:18) which Roman Catholics understand to be a statement about Peter, not about the declaration he made (although what Peter spoke was the truth). Shortly after this incident, though, as Jesus is explaining his future suffering and death (and resurrection), Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him, trying to assure him that God would never permit such atrocities. Jesus then responds to Peter thus: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men." (Matt 16:23) What happened to Peter, the Rock, the man who received revelation from God the Father?
Unshakeable faith... shaken
(Matt 26:31-75; Luke 22:31-34; John 18:10)

At the Last Supper, Jesus tells his Apostles that they shall fall away from him that very evening. He tells Peter that he has prayed for him, "that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren." (Luke 22:32) Peter declares his fealty despite what the other Apostles do. Later, when they went into Gethsemane, Jesus takes Peter (along with James and John, the sons of Zebedee) with him even deeper into the garden to keep watch as he prays. But when he returns an hour later he finds Peter and the other two asleep. Jesus asks Peter why they could not stay awake and warns him that "the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matt 26:41) Twice more Jesus goes off to pray and returns to sleeping "watchmen". Peter attempts to save Jesus when the crowd comes to arrest him by cutting the ear of a servant to a high priest, but Jesus rebukes him for this action (John 18:10; Matt 26:52-54). Then, after Peter was waiting in the courtyard to see what would happen to Jesus, some bystanders noted him and recognized him. Three times Peter denied Christ, saying he did not even know him. Then he heard a cock crowing and he remembered what Jesus had foretold; he left the courtyard and wept. Where is the man who would go to prison and suffer death for Christ?
Here we see three instances of Peter at his extremes: full of faith one moment and seemingly bereft of it the next! (How could such a man, the Reformers ask, be the "vicar of Christ"?!) Peter, the man who proclaimed "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.", was also the man to whom Jesus responded, "Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men." (Luke 5:8-10)

So what does all this have to do with Peter being an example for us? I want to compare and contrast the elements of these three incidents: what Peter did right and what Peter did wrong. Peter is a classical case of a prodigal son, a repentent sinner, a man who endured in his faith to the end despite his human doubt.

Look for Part 2 of this post next week some time this month eventually. In the meantime, I encourage you to post your comments and commentaries on the Scripture passages I've highlighted (or point out more of your own -- I certainly haven't covered everything Peter-related).

No comments: