I have a deep affection for St. Peter. I think I understand him well and I have a strong sense that he gets me too. This is why as a teenager I chose Peter as my confirmation name.
What do I mean by my affection for and understanding of Peter?
Last year on a visit to Rome I wrote of him seeking to leave the security of the boat to be even closer to Jesus, even if that meant walking on water. But then, in a characteristic Peter moment, and also a characteristic moment for me, Peter and I too often look away from Jesus and began to sink. But the story doesn’t end in drowning. Jesus reached down and lifted Peter up as he has done so often for me, rescuing us from ourselves.
There is a moment of intimacy between Peter and Jesus at the last supper and this is recorded in today’s gospel reading
Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me. he disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant.
One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved,
was reclining at Jesus’ side.
So Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom he meant.
He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him,
“Master, who is it?”
Jesus answered him,
“Where I am going, you cannot follow me now,
though you will follow later.”
Peter said to him,
“Master, why can I not follow you now?
I will lay down my life for you.”
Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me?
Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow
before you deny me three times.”
We know well the next stage of the story. Within 24 hours the rooster crowed and Peter woke up to the fact that he had just denied his friend and Lord not once but three times.
Peter’s redeeming feature is his remorse after his fall: he went outside and wept bitterly. Luke 22:62.
The next time we meet Peter he is with John running to the tomb on the morning of the Resurrection of Jesus. The painting (below) by Eugene Burnand hanging on the wall of my living room captures the moment well. This was a moment that must have been full of mixed feelings for Peter: He desperately wanted the news brought by the women to be true, he wanted his Lord to be alive, but this would mean he would have to face the Jesus he had denied.
I can’t leave the story there – let’s jump ahead to the heart of John 21 to the meeting between Jesus and Peter on the Sea of Galilee after the resurrection. John recognises that Jesus is on the water and leaps from boat to go to Jesus.
Then after breakfast on the shore (what a great down-to-earth detail – breakfast on the shore with Jesus), Jesus asks Peter, do you love me? Of course the evidence of Peter’s denial is a lack of love, but this evidence is not the reality: Peter loves Jesus deeply and expresses this: “Lord, you know that I love you.”
Our failures define us only if we let the story of our lives stop at that point. My affection for Peter is in the fact that he allowed himself to be rescued by Jesus who truly was his saviour.
You might like to see the events of this Holy Week, especially the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus through the eyes of Peter. Follow him through these days and try to get a sense of what he was experiencing, the highs and the lows of the passion of Jesus for him.
Then imagine his mixed feelings, his excitement, his love on the morning of the resurrection when he realised that his friend and saviour was alive.