Saint Peter: Pillar of Faith and Action
The Month of June is liturgically rich one. On the 29th of June, the Catholic Church celebrates the solemnities of two important saints of the Church - St Peter and St Paul. According to St John Henry Newman their shared feast reflects the importance of organic development. Both the saints founded the churches and built the emerging communities of disciples incorporating the creative tension between tradition and creativity, dogma and praxis. In this blog post, I would like to concentrate on St Peter and in the next one on St Paul and do a bit of comparison. As Luke's Acts of the Apostles suggests both Peter and Paul are the central figures in the expansion of the church from Jerusalem into the Mediterranean world in spite of their flawed characters.
Jesus chose Simon Peter specifically to lead his Church, and at first glance this would seem an odd choice. Even though he may not appear to be our first choice but for Jesus he was his beloved, worthy and right choice. Jesus works out a strategy through Peter to continue the mission right up to our times through his successors. Being ever impulsive, ever withdrawing from his initial commitment, Peter could be compared to a candle in the wind. However, inflaming with the Spirit, Jesus, before and after his resurrection, makes Peter fisher of men.
1. Peter, one of the first disciples of Jesus is a man of faith. We know his faith because of various incidences the gospel enumerates and his child like faith which is often being tested even to the point of denied! "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 18:13). Through his brother Andrew who was a disciple of St. John the Baptist, Peter comes to know about Jesus. Peter is a listening man. Andrew then went to his brother Simon, saying, "We have found the Messiah" (Jn 1:41), and then brought Simon to Jesus.
2. Peter is a man of excitement. Matthew additionally describes Peter walking on water for a moment but beginning to sink when his faith wavers (Matthew 14:28-31). Peter initially refused to let Jesus wash his feet, but when Jesus threatened him with: "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me", Peter replied: "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head" (John 13:2-11).
3. Peter is also a seeker. He always wants to know more and for him, the answers Jesus gives need to be pondered. The very bold words that he utters “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), shows his intuitive spirit. While his other disciples still must be waiting for right words to come out of their mouths. Peter knows to put the right words to his thoughts. Jesus himself gets excited with Peter's answer in spite of his disciple's fickle character.
4. Peter lives with the stir of the moment. He is very emotional too. The three Synoptic Gospels all mention that, when Jesus was arrested, one of his companions cut off the ear of a servant of the High Priest of Israel (Matthew 26:51, Mark 14:47, Luke 22:50). The Gospel of John also includes this event and names Peter as the swordsman and Malchus as the victim (John 18:10). Luke adds that Jesus touched the ear and miraculously healed it (Luke 22:49-51).
5. Peter the leader: Acts of the apostles speak about his apostolic journeys. Peter presides over the first council of the apostles in Jerusalem to fix some confusion the early church was facing (Acts 15). The Gospels and Acts portray Peter as the most prominent apostle, though he denied Jesus three times during the events of the crucifixion. According to the Christian tradition, Peter was the first to whom Jesus appeared, balancing Peter's denial and restoring his position. Peter is regarded as the first leader of the early Church.
6. Peter often confesses his faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Peter is often depicted in the gospels as spokesman of all the Apostles. John Vidmar, a Catholic scholar, writes: "Catholic scholars agree that Peter had an authority that superseded that of the other apostles. Peter is their spokesman at several events, he conducts the election of Matthias, his opinion in the debate over converting Gentiles was crucial, etc. In the final chapter of the Gospel of John, Peter, in one of the resurrection appearances of Jesus, three times affirmed his love for Jesus, balancing his threefold denial, and Jesus reconfirmed Peter's position (John 21: 15-17).
7. Peter is the bridge builder: The New Testament scholar, James D. G. Dunn proposes that Peter was a "bridge-man" between the opposing views of Paul and James the Just. In a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples (Matthew 16:13–19), Jesus asks, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" The disciples give various answers. When he asks, "Who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answers, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus then declares: “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 Cephas (Peter) (Petros), and on this rock (petra) 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 whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Jesus immediately changes the name of Peter – the “rock” – and is told he will be the leader of the Church on earth, with authority and power handed by him down through the ages.
8. Peter is also the exemplar of "little faith". In Matthew Chapter 14, Peter will soon have Jesus say to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?", and he will eventually deny Jesus three times. Thus, in light of the Easter event, Peter became an exemplar of the forgiven sinner. In spite of his little faith, Peter was made greatest among the band of disciples of Jesus. Little things matter a lot. Indeed, small things are beautiful!
Peter being our elder in faith, certainly we might exhibit his qualities and nature to a certain extent. Undoubtedly, the mission given to Peter continues to take definite shape through our lives and personal mission. Only when we reach out to those who need us, we become part of that bedrock on which the Church is built.
- Olvin Veigas, SJ
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