Re-post: Glimpsing the Heart of Peter

Simon Peter is a major figure among the personalities of the New Testament. He was one of the first to be introduced to Jesus, and later one of the original twelve chosen and appointed by Jesus to be his apostles. He is the first named in each of the three lists of apostles given in the Gospels.

Moreover, on the Day of Pentecost Peter preached the first sermon properly called a Christian sermon — centering on Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. And he’s the primary figure in the first 12 chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. It was Peter who carried the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Beyond all this, his two letters written to Christians suffering from persecution are included in the New Testament.

Yet, his performance was on occasion less than stellar. With Our Lord’s crucifixion hours away, at one point Simon Peter declared his never-dying loyalty to his Master and only a short time later, now in a hostile environment, he denied that he knew him. From this lapse, however, he recovered in a burst of penitential tears.

But in that same general period of time there’s another moment in his life when, in spite of his dismal failure, Peter’s responses show the depth of his heart’s commitment to Jesus.

It’s Thursday. The Lord and the twelve have arrived at a borrowed room to celebrate the Passover Feast together. For the customary washing of the feet before the meal, a bowl and towel are there, but no servant appears. Jesus assigns himself the task. However, he comes on his knees to Simon Peter and the big fisherman says in surprise, “YOU wash MY feet? To him that would be unthinkable. Jesus was his leader and leaders don’t do such menial tasks.

Jesus responded: “Unless I wash you, you have no part in me.” The pronouncement must have rung in Peter’s ears, and his reply shows the depth of his heart’s commitment to his Master: “Not just my feet but my hands and my head as well.”

It was as though he cried out, “Being severed from you would be like death. The most important thing in my life is to belong to you.”

That response was not entirely new. Earlier when Jesus asked the twelve if they would leave him as some of his other followers were doing, Peter blurted out with the same depth of feeling, “To whom else can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” His love and connections were real!

Jesus’ words to Peter have two levels of meaning. At the material level they have to do with the washing of the feet as a social propriety. At the spiritual level they have to do with what really connects one with Jesus – called “the washing of regeneration.” It stands for an inner cleansing, the washing away of our sins, the cleansing of the soul by the blood of Christ.

To return to the account of Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus adds a word about the ongoing life of true discipleship, saying, “if you’ve had a bath, you need only to wash your feet.” It’s as though he reminds them that that very day they bathed for the day and that need not be repeated. But after walking the dusty, soiled streets their feet may need attention.

Elsewhere the same John writes, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He writes this to believers.

We can never forget Brother Peter. Tradition says that he spent his closing days in the city of Rome where he was crucified under the emperor, Nero. When it came time to die, some believe, he asked that he be placed on his cross upside down because he was unworthy to be crucified in the same position as his Lord.

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Photo credit: flattop341 (via flickr.com)

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One thought on “Re-post: Glimpsing the Heart of Peter

  1. Simon ,given the additional name Peter ( rock ), by Jesus , figures as Jesus’s lead disciple,in the New Testament . Jesus must have seen in him ,a good leader of me,and so he proved ,with the odd stumble along the way.

    When our Lord asked his disciples this key question : ‘But who do you say I am ’; it was Simon Peter who gave the perfect answer. This set him out among the twelve.

    ‘’Simon Peter answered ,’’You are the Messiah,the Son of the living God’’ Jesus replied ,’’Blessed are you ,Simon son of Jonah,for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood,but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter,and on this rock I will build my church,and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,and what ever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’’ Matthew 16 : 16- 19 NIV

    In fact ,according to the tradition of our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic church,Peter was the first bishop of Rome ,down from whom successive popes have been appointed ,to the current pope who has adopted the name Francis .Peter built Christ’s church ,Christ’s ecclesia ,the church being His people ,far more than bricks and mortar.

    During the events of Pentecost ,as related in Acts, Simon Peter is the lead apostle.With Paul,Peter is the chief missionary ,beyond the Jewish constituency , to the people around the Mediterranean.

    It is true Simon Peter fell short during the events after Christ’s arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. Certainly compared to John and the women of Jerusalem, who stayed by Christ during His crucifixion. As Jesus prophesied ,Peter disowned his Master three times before second cock crow,How bitterly Peter repented this all too human failure of courage.

    As a simple,honest fisherman from Galilee,it is hard for Peter to understand that Jesus has come in the form of a servant,to wash His disciples feet Peter fully knows Jesus is the Messiah,God incarnate. So how could this be, Peter must have wondered. But at threat of being disowned and alienated from His Master, ,he offered his whole self to be washed by Jesus , head and hands as well as feet.

    How difficult it must have been for Peter to learn that his Master whom he loved with all his heart,was determined to die on the cross.What a dreadful shock,almost impossible to accept. How it must have hurt him when Jesus cast off Peter’s doubts , likening the poor disciple to the tempter. What an all too human figure Peter presents ,in the face of such great and extraordinary events.We can easily relate to poor shocked Peter.

    Peter ,the rock ,is a vivid touchstone for us , as we read the New Testament , As these great and important historical events unfold , in the .four gospels and as Luke’s Gospel continues in the Book of Acts , Peter is a warm , familiar figure we identify with . Simon Peter figures both as a hero of the church ,with great rock like loyalty and strength, yet a man with real human frailties too.

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