Thought for the week - 3 September 2023
Saint Peter is a difficult man to understand, and he can seem a bit of a letdown to us, who look to him for answers, or at least for a pattern of Christian life. Only last Sunday we heard his affirmation of who he came to believe that Jesus was ‘the Messiah, the son of the living God’, and in reply to which Jesus blessed the faith of Peter as he blesses our faith too by including us into the Rock of faith, which binds things on earth and things in heaven – and rightly so too, for by our confession of faith, we become part of the Body of Christ. It all looked quite positive, Peter was understanding who Jesus is and like us, he moved closer and closer to the truth the more he knew and experienced Christ. He began to ‘get’ the divine plan, as we also seek to understand it in our life, in our contexts. But today he is being called out – ‘Get behind me Satan’ – and those things which we and he thought he knew become a little less clear to us, and understanding God seems just a little further away as well.
What Peter fails to grasp and will fail to grasp at the transfiguration is that what he is starting to see is not an immediate event. The Kingdom of Heaven will only come to fruition after Christ has suffered, died, and been raised from the dead. There is some danger and pain to go through in order to see the promises of Christ come to pass – as there is for us as well, we will at the end of our earthly life have a difficult journey to make and the faith we seem full of now will maybe seem a little more fleeting at that moment, because we will have to rely on it alone, and not on ourselves, because it is our own self that we will surrender. Peter seems a little unworthy at this moment because he has misunderstood, but he is still given another chance, even as the cock crows.
This sense of unworthiness is grammatically illustrated by subtle ironies in the text. Peter, a moment ago the ‘rock’ on which the Church was to be built, is now a ‘stumbling block’, a rock not on which to build, not a firm foundation, but a rock that one might trip over, a hindrance. Poor Peter, for he surely was not expecting this.
We also should study the ability to exercise authority in binding and loosing, so freshly given to him, for he makes no delay in using that, the first thig Peter says is ‘No, Lord, this shall not happen to you’ – as he tries to bind on earth the passion and death of Christ, preventing His suffering, which will also prevent the Kingdom of Heaven being opened – in other words, binding the things of Heaven. This brings forth that rebuke we so fear to hear ‘get behind me Satan’. Peter, once again, has got it wrong. He got it wrong now, he got it wrong at the transfiguration when he tried to contain Jesus (or indeed to bind Him on earth), he got it wrong by denying Jess three times in the Praetorium, he makes a mess of walking on the water to Jesus out of the boat as well and almost drowns through his lack of faith – and even after his death, St Paul rebukes him for avoiding eating with Gentiles like us. He doesn’t seem like a particularly good role model for us, does he really, yet he is the one that Jesus chooses – he has failings as we have failings, but he is no failure as we are no failure either. Under his leadership, the church grew and spread all the way from Galilee to Rome, where of course he died the death of a Martyr, and his blood gave life to the church of God.
How do we understand Peter as someone to follow then, when the scriptures seem to underline his apparent failings at every opportunity? Maybe it shows us that the great things Peter did, he did not on his own merit or effort, but through the gifts that God gave him, and chose to give him even when he seemed to not understand and not to see what looks so obvious to us. He is the apostle of first encounter- he has no retrospective vision as we do, no foresight, no example to fall back on, he’s just trying to make sense of the things happening around himself and understanding them through the scriptures and prophets that he has in his tradition- so he is an apostle of our times, as we also try to see how God is revealing Himself through the new technology and advances of our times, and like Peter, we will not see Him so clearly in Artificial Reality, in Space exploration, in War and nuclear threat – but He is there in all these things and it is incumbent upon us to find Him and show Him to others in all the difficulties and uncertainties of our modern life.
Peter trusts in God’s grace. He has to, for he cannot trust in himself. But the trust he has in God, the enthusiasm he has for the Gospel, helps him to pick himself up after his failures and today after his rebuke from Jesus. Peter, though he can get things wrong, does not give up, but perseveres in working for Christ. We too share in that enormous task, and we should take our hope and courage in the fact that Peter has done this before us. Pray to Peter, ask him to show us the way – for it lies through getting things wrong more often than it does in getting things right!