Far be it from me to put words into Jesus’ mouth, but I can easily imagine someone asking Jesus, near the end of his ministry, just what he thought about Peter. Peter was the first chosen by Jesus and the leader of the twelve.
I imagine Jesus saying something like, “Peter is the most frustrating person of all the men I have chosen. He never seems to get the point of what I’m all about; he’s always talking before he stops to think of what he is saying. But you know something? I just can’t stop loving that man. He is so sincere and good-hearted.”
As the Gospels frankly describe Peter, he really does seem to be a mass of contradictions! Half way through we have to wonder, How in the world did Jesus ever choose Peter as an apostle, let alone the leader of the group.
List of Peter’s Failures
Just look at Peter. When Peter sees the miracle of the catch of fishes at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Peter cries out, “Lord, depart from me for I am a sinner” (Lk 5:1-11). Actually, Peter has Jesus going in the wrong direction. It would have made more sense for him to say, “Lord, please come to me, for I need you.”
Peter is one of the three privileged apostles to be with Jesus in all his major moments. He is witness to the miracle of Jesus bringing Jairus’ little daughter back to life (Lk 8:41ff). He is present on the Mount of the Transfiguration, where he sees Jesus in a whole powerful and moving experience—yet he immediately talks about building three tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah (Mk 9:2ff).
Jesus very seriously predicts and describes his approaching passion, and because Jesus’ words contradict Peter’s plans for power, prestige and a glorious overthrow of the enemies of the Jewish people, Peter actually pulls Jesus aside and scolds Jesus. He tells Jesus, in effect, “You don’t know what you are talking about!” (Mk 8:31ff). Peter seems to have things worked out so that if only Jesus would listen him, things would turn out not tragically, with Jesus’ death, but rather, triumphantly, with a great display of power.
At the Last Supper, Peter opposes Jesus when Jesus in all humility comes to wash his feet. “Not mine, Lord. It’s not right for you to do that.” Not long after that, when Jesus speaks of his betrayer and his suffering, Peter with full braggadocio proclaims that “others may deny you, Lord, but I will lay down my life for you” (Lk 22:31ff). It’s then that Jesus predicts his triple denial—which Peter cannot accept. Later in the Garden of Gethsemane Peter can’t even watch an hour with Jesus as he suffers his agony preparing for death. Then, to top it off, Peter denies Jesus three times in the High Priest’s courtyard—facing not an angry crowd, but rather a teenaged servant! Peter even takes an oath swearing that he doesn’t not know Jesus. He committed perjury! When Jesus begins his journey to Calvary, Peter is nowhere to be seen. He hides with the rest of the apostles, lest he be found by Jesus’ enemies.
What is rather startling is that while we always consider Judas’ betrayal of Jesus as the worst sin any human could commit, you could make a good argument that Peter’s was far worse, given Peter’s closeness to Jesus all through his ministry. No apostle is described more, or quoted more, than Peter. Judas is barely mentioned; Peter denied Jesus three times just hours after protesting his bravery!
The Mystery of Jesus’ Love for Sinners
Well, after that litany of terribly grievous failures on the part of Peter, Jesus still forgives him time and time again. As Peter finished his third denial, Jesus was led through the courtyard and Luke tells us touchingly and most simply that “Jesus looked at Peter.” Peter remembered Jesus’ prediction. But Peter could read Jesus’ eyes: “I forgive you Peter. I love you.” And Peter went outside and wept (Lk 22:54ff). He finally realized what he had done. Peter was never demoted as a failure but called to feed the lambs and sheep of Jesus (Jn 21:15ff). The question is why doesn’t Jesus reject Peter?
The answer is simply the mystery of Jesus’ love. His love can see beyond Peter’s sins and failures. Remember, we read that Jesus was a friend of sinners, that sinners crowded around Jesus, rather than runing from him. We can only stand back in awe at Jesus’ love.
The simple but amazing thing is that Jesus seems to use the weak and fragile to do his work. He doesn’t pick saints….he picks fumblers and sinners. And why? Because in the end it is always the power of Jesus and not any human power that accomplishes the work of the Lord.
All of this is a powerful reminder of our relationship with the Lord. It is he who saves us, not we ourselves. He is the one no matter what we have done in the past who always has open arms to receive and to embrace us. Can’t you just hear Peter saying to people who think they are unworthy of God, “Wait! You think you’re sinful! Wait until you hear my story. You can’t imagine how low I sunk, and yet Jesus was always there for me. Never doubt that no matter how bad your past was, Jesus’ love and forgiveness are infinitely greater.
Thanks, Peter, for reminding us of Jesus’ love.