“Blessed are you, Simon.. And I tell you – you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church..
I will give you the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” (cf. Mt.16:17-19)
I often wonder what drew the Lord to call Simon Peter the fisherman as His first Apostle, along with his brother, Andrew. I wonder, too, what it was about the Lord that made Peter instantly leave all behind and do as he had been invited to do – we are told he followed the Lord ‘immediately’. Just what was it about this Man that so drew the Apostles to Him? And what exactly did the Lord see in Peter?
Peter seems to be a very human person. At times, proud and almost haughty, such as his initial refusal to allow the Lord to wash his feet at the Last Supper; at other times, a model of humility, such as wishing to be crucified upside down, as he did not deserve to die like his Master. In the Gospels, he is always listed first amongst the Apostles and later, the great Saint Paul would attest that Peter is the ‘apostle to the Jews’ in the same way that he, Paul, is apostle to the gentiles.
Peter seems to be part of the special core group, who are present at some events which are not witnessed by the rest of the group. such as the Transfiguration. Also, in Gethsemane, Peter – along with James and John – is invited to be nearer to the Lord while He prays in the Garden, whilst the other Apostle are a little further back.
Just prior to this event, the Lord has celebrated the Passover at the Last Super, where He has instituted the Eucharist. At this Supper, the Lord has foretold that Peter will deny Him not once, but three times before the night is over. Peter, of course, cannot accept this. And yet, it comes to pass.
When the Lord moves further into Gethsemane to pray to the Father, He has told Peter, James and John to “remain here and watch with Me” (Mt.26:38). Coming back a while later, the Lord finds them asleep and He rebukes Peter – “So, could you not watch with Me one hour?” (Mt.26.40). This is repeated three times.
As Peter was dozing off, I wonder what he was thinking about? Was he considering the Last Supper they had just shared? Did he have any idea at that moment of what the Lord had just done and what He had given to them? Or were the words ringing in his mind that he would deny Jesus? I can only assume that he had no real idea of what was just about to happen, since he was able to fall asleep so easily.
Much later, looking back on all these events, I wonder what Peter thought then? As Jesus is being tried and Peter denies Pilate, he realises what he has done and how right the Lord has been “and he went out and wept bitterly” (Mt.26:75).
I think this is the beginning of a great change in Peter. I think that change reaches it’s zenith on the morning of the Resurrection, as Peter goes into the empty Tomb, where the Body of Jesus had been laid on Good Friday; and I think it is completed with the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. From this point onward, it is truly Peter ‘the Rock’ that we see and hear.
Now, if the Lord can choose such a week and flawed man as Simon to become Peter, the great Rock and the foundation of the Church, then no-one is beyond the power of Christ’s grace. That grace transforms, certainly – but it builds upon what is already there. Such is the case with Simon, who will become Peter.
Many years later, recalling all these wondrous events, what must Peter have thought of it all?
© Main image: ‘Saint Peter, Penitent’ by Gerrit van Honthorst