Sunday, June 29, 2014

June 29 - Peter, Martyr, Apostle, Rock


"Simon Peter, listen to me," Jesus spoke earnestly, "The Adversary hungers for a chance to destroy you along with all of your brothers and sisters so that there will be nobody left to pick up the pieces. But, I've been praying that your faith will not ultimately fail you." Peter was perplexed by the sudden change in Jesus' attention and insistence. It almost sounded like Jesus was saying that Peter's faith would fail him soon and Jesus was hoping it wouldn't be forever. Jesus continued, "Once you have turned your back on me I pray you will regain your faith and use it to give comfort and courage to the other disciples--your brothers and sisters."

Peter was awestruck that Jesus was assuming some imminent abandonment. He was offended that Jesus would suggest such a thing when, from what Peter could tell, he had been a good follower and disciple. In fact, he must have assumed that he was clearly one of the leaders among the group. Though Jesus' words confirmed this they also insisted that failure was stalking him in the fog of the unknown that always lies ahead of us. Peter insisted, "Lord! Even if it means going to prison or, God forbid, dying, then I will never turn my back on you."

Jesus shook his head sadly, held Peter's over-confident gaze for a moment and said softly, "I assure you Peter that, three times even before the sun comes up, you'll deny only only our bond and connection but even that you ever met me." Having made this unpleasant pronouncement, Jesus moved on to other teachings. Later that night he was arrested and even though Peter had tried to defend him with his own sword, Jesus had insisted that this was the way things were supposed to be. Peter must have burned with rage at Judas as the man walked away from the whole incident richer for having sold out his supposedLord. Perhaps he vowed that he would not do the same as Judas and so he followed Jesus by stealth so that he could keep his eye on Jesus and wait for the signal to fight back and overcome Jesus' accusers and captors.

While he waited for that moment he began to feel the cold of the night and so he gathered around a nearby fire that some of the interested members of the crowd had built for warmth. He must have seemed distracted as he constantly looked to the face of Jesus among his captors as they tried and abused him. Perhaps while his attention was on the face of his Lord--who seemed intent on refusing to defend himself before their ridiculous charges--a servant girl was staring at him as if she knew him. She whispered to the small crowd, "I saw this man traveling with the one they're going to crucify."

Peter heard it and a little fear crept up his spine and encouraged him to defend himself before her not-quite-accusation. "Him?" he began, "I've never even met the guy." He said it because he must have known that attracting attention to himself would keep him from keeping his eyes on Jesus in anticipation of the revolution Jesus would indubitably start any moment. So, Peter told a lie in pursuit of what he deemed the "greater good" or being able to devote his full attention to what he expected Jesus would soon be doing. After all, it could happen at any moment and he didn't want to miss the signal.

But, then, another member of the crowd who had heard the servant girl took a more interested look at Peter. The man said, "You know, I think you're right. I think he's one of the disciples of that man. I'm sure I've seen him in that crowd." Now, Peter knew that the crowd was honing in on him and would soon label him a friend of Jesus. Peter knew that he couldn't help Jesus if he, too, ended up in the same dangerous position on trial before the powerful and influential. So, he decided again to tell a lie to protect himself and, in his own estimation, to protect Jesus' plan. He denied knowing Jesus louder and more forcefully. This seemed to work and so they left Peter alone because he seemed angry and unapproachable. Peter continued to watch and wait for a signal from Jesus but Jesus continued to walk the path that Peter was confident would end in his death.

After another hour of light conversation and discussion one of the men in the crowd finally came to a decision. He had agreed that Peter looked like one of the disciples of Jesus but wanted to hear Peter talk more to see if he could place his accent. Finally, the man yelled his accusation, "You guys are right! Listen to him talk...he's clearly from Galilee and you know that the man they're going to crucify spent a lot of time there. They say his disciples were from there."

Peter was furious that the crowd would not simply leave him alone so that he could do the will of God and wait for Jesus to tell him what to do. Instead, they wanted to make these accusations and get in the way. In his anger he spat out at the crowd, "You don't know what you're talking about! I don't know the man." As the last word left his lips, though, he heard the crow of a rooster and realized with a sudden and damnable certainty that Jesus' prediction had come true even as Peter had tried to remain loyal and wait for Jesus' signal. He gasped and turned to look upon the face of Jesus--who was now staring at him with a strange mixture of grief and hope. Peter realized what he had done and ran from the place weeping as he had never before--and would never again. In the pursuit of his will disguised as God's will he had betrayed the one he had vowed never to abandon.

After Jesus was crucified, Peter remembered the second part of what he had said. Even as the hour of his death approached, Jesus had held out the opportunity for mercy and forgiveness. Peter knew that there was healing even for a soul as sick with sin as he was. After the resurrection of God all things were made clear to Peter and the disciples he now led and comforted. He was brought back into the fold of discipleship with two commands that stand now for all Christians (who are, even now, both deniers and confessors of Christ): "feed my sheep" and "follow me." Peter would follow his Lord for the rest of his life until his martyrdom where he was crucified upside down at his own request so that his death could not be compared to that of Jesus.

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