Who could not love Peter? Reading the Gospel story, we recognize our own humanity in him – the moments of insight and audacity, the situations when blind panic sets in, love and fear jostling together. One minute he and Jesus are on the same wavelength; the next minute Peter gets the wrong end of the stick and is demoted from “this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven” to “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:13–23). In the book of Acts he is revered as a great leader – and has to endure a severe ear-bashing from Paul on the subject of his hypocrisy. We hear about this in Paul’s letter to the Galatians – Luke is more discreet in his account of the matter in Acts! (Acts 15; Galatians 2:11–14).
Our passage here has a corresponding one in John 21:15–19, where the risen Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” We feel the gentle touch of the Master on Peter’s triple denial in this passage.
Peter comes across as a man of immense potential continually undermined by ordinary human failings – and of which of us is that not true?
He is on the one hand the man whose faith failed him and left him floundering in the lake, reaching out in panic to Jesus, but that’s because on the other hand he was the only man other than Jesus Christ to have successfully attempted to walk on water – even if only for a few steps (Matthew 14:22–31). And in the Gospels Peter’s story contrasts starkly with that of Judas – for they both betrayed Jesus, but Peter had the humility to say sorry and start again, whereas Judas succumbed to despair.
O God of life and power, who made yourself known to us in Jesus, may his courage, faith, and love so take root in us that we cannot help but follow him. Thank you for the example of his disciple Peter, who shows us how to start again and never give up. May we too quietly align ourselves with the great company of witnesses to the gospel, so that at the last we may hear Jesus speak over our lives the words we long for: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” In Jesus’ holy name; Amen.