TMOC 12. The Special Case of Peter
Some of the greatest miracles are the hardest to see until after a long period of time.
Jesus must have had the patience of Job when it came to Peter. We can learn a great deal about the mind of Jesus by how He handled the eventual leader of the Twelve. We know Peter was a big blundering fool. A mind filled with big dreams, and mouth full of big talk, and hands full of big mistakes — that was Peter. So long as you kept him busy at mundane tasks, he was okay. Give him a job requiring initiative and at least half the time he would make a mess of it. And Peter seldom made small messes.
He was just the kind of man to be drawn with great passion to a Messiah. Peter just knew he could accomplish such great things if given a chance. He was ready for heroic battle, even carried an over-sized fishing knife, probably practiced a bit using it as a sword. He never lacked for zeal when it was something he believed in, something big. He took himself too seriously, though. We can sense he was always shocked when things went wrong, never taking for granted his humanity, never seeming to remember his previous bumbling. He knew deep sorrow over failure, but never seemed to remember why he failed. It was the reason he kept making more mistakes.
And Jesus needed him.
When Peter got it right, he was a star, indeed. The Gospels record some startling moments of genius. On the day Jesus called him, Peter confessed he had no business polluting the air Jesus breathed, unworthy of the Lord’s presence. Then there was that day Jesus discussed with the Twelve what people said of Him. When He asked them what their own opinion was, Peter blurted out Jesus was the Messiah. And when Jesus used the Parable of the Bread of Life to separate out the human chaff in His entourage, who was it said they had nowhere else to go, since Jesus had the words of life? Peter surely got some things very right.
Only when Peter set aside himself and his dreams did he begin to understand, but the demand of his flesh was no small voice in Peter’s ears. It’s last dying gasp was in the Garden of Gethsemane. Here was this huge armed crowd, including Judas, some officials and dozens of soldiers.
Perhaps we’d have to have been there to understand why Peter didn’t at Judas, who at least might have deserved it. Instead, the least important man there caught the clumsy swipe with Peter’s blade. His name was Malchus, a mere slave of Caiaphas. Jesus rebuked Peter sharply, not for his natural human mistakes, but for his habit of thinking human power could accomplish anything important. Violence was a bitter fruit, which brought only more violence. God no longer sponsored armies in His Name. The time was past when human warfare could work the glory of God; there was no longer any political entity serving Him. Jesus persuaded the soldiers to release Him long enough, and restored the ear for the same reason He performed so many other healings, to redeem an injustice. Then He made sure He was the only one arrested. All the injustice that night was for Him alone, and He refused to share it. These people weren’t enemies, just helpless pawns of the real Enemy, who could be faced only in death.
Painful it would be, but the worst they could do to Him was precisely what Jesus intended to face. They would think they had accomplished something, and Jesus had miserably failed. They had it backwards, and so did Peter. His hour had come.
But the blundering little boy in Peter wasn’t dead yet. He sneaked into the trial, then lied about who he was, and denied he even knew his own Messiah. That night, the beast in Peter died, and it’s a wonder he didn’t finish it off with suicide. But he wasn’t alone through the ordeal, nor when he got word of Jesus’ body disappearing. The next time we see him rashly charging ahead was when he brushed past John and entered the empty tomb. He had to see for himself.
So when Peter finally encounters the risen Jesus again, we should note the Lord’s personality had not changed appreciably. That morning when they met on the shore of Galilee, Peter had returned to the one thing he knew how to do safely — fishing. It was a calming time accomplishing nothing. And when he realized the man on the shore was not an eager buyer but his Master, he plunged into the water and beat the boat ashore. He professed his utter unworthiness yet again, and this time we sense it’s real and final. Indeed, just to make sure for Peter’s own sake, Jesus conducted a peculiar interview.
He asked Peter twice if he were willing to lead the others and face the danger first. Did Peter have a sacrificial passion for his Master? Twice Peter chose a lesser term than sacrificial love, indicating he wasn’t sure, knew he couldn’t boast big, but he certainly was a friend of Jesus. So on the third pass, Jesus asked Peter if he was at least His friend. Peter noticed the change in terminology, and felt a deep stab of regret, but knew better than to shoot off his big mouth any more. After denying Jesus three times that night, the least he could do is be honest now, at whatever cost. Yet, this time, as each of the other times, Jesus reminded Peter he was the chosen leader — “pastor my sheep.”
Indeed, it was in the hands of Peter to move this Gospel message out, little by little, from a tiny sect of Judaism, to a faith available to all humanity. We see eventually Peter goes to the Samaritans, who, for all the hatred between them, Jews did not quite call “Gentiles.” A short time later, Peter uses his divine keys to open the Gospel to actual Gentiles, visiting a centurion in his home after a vision pointed out certain ritual aspects of the Old Covenant were now dead. Yes, Peter stumbled yet one more time when he felt that old intimidation, and Paul corrected him. Eventually Peter willingly died for Jesus, right behind Paul, as Jesus had once asked him some decade earlier at that breakfast on the beach of Galilee.
With all the power of the universe in His hands, Jesus often let things go. He had a keen sense of what really mattered in His mission, saw unfailingly the threads of the moral fabric in every situation. He never picked over mere appearances and silly rules except in sarcasm, mocking those who worshiped their logical understanding of the Law instead of the God who gave the Law. In the case with Peter, with all his flaws, once broken of his childish inflated self regard, was more valuable as leader than all the rulers and rabbis of the entire nation.
The new Peter had become reliable after the Resurrection. It really didn’t much matter what he accomplished, and Jesus didn’t make any plans for him, but let him do what came naturally to his new nature.
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