The Church of the Resurrection
Fr. Chad Jones
I have always felt like Peter and I were kindred spirits. Now, that my sound just as arrogant as can be, but you won’t think that after I explain myself. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Hall – the name still strikes terror in my heart, completely wore out three ping-pong paddles on me. On one of the many, many calls she made to my house she told my mother that I was one of those children who was simply incapable of keeping my mouth shut. She went on to say that my ability to talk to anyone about most anything would serve me well as an adult, if I could manage to live through the third grade. There were days when I had my doubts.
Well, what in the world could this possibly have to do with St. Peter? Peter was constantly getting himself into trouble by opening his mouth way before he had thought about the consequences. I can truly relate.
How many times can you think of when Peter just blurts out what is on his mind? Sometimes he has very, very good things to say and other times…not so much. It really does happen all the time in the scriptures. You remember the story, it is a stormy evening and the disciples are all in a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. The darker it gets the more the winds pick up and it becomes harder and harder to make that little boat go just exactly where they wanted it to go. And just when it looks as if things can’t get a lot worse for the disciples, one of the disciples thinks that he sees something out on the water where nothing really should be. He watches for a minute. Surely he is mistaken, but after a little while, what he thinks he sees is still there. If anything, it looks like it is coming toward them. So he gets the attention of another disciple on the boat and says, “Hey, do you see anything out there on the water.” The other disciple saw it, too. We know that it was Jesus walking on the water. When Jesus hears their fear, he calls out to them and says, “It’s okay. It’s me, Jesus.” And while everyone else in the boat remains wisely quiet, Peter says, “No are you not Jesus. We are with Jesus every day and the Jesus that we are with definitely does NOT walk on water. We would have noticed that, but Lord, if it is you, command me to get out of this boat and make me walk out to you.” And Jesus looked at him and says, “Come.” And at that one tiny word, all the faith in the world welled up inside of St. Peter and he stepped out of the boat onto a stormy sea and begins to walk toward God Almighty.
When Christ asks the disciples who people say that he is they say things like Elijah or Moses or one of the prophets. But when Jesus asks who they think he is everyone gets very quiet, except Peter who says what everyone else is too afraid to say, “You are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Because of his mouth Jesus looked at him and called him the blessed rock upon which the church would be founded.
Now things don’t always end so well for Peter. His rash actions and words get him into trouble more often than not. In the garden, when Jesus is arrested, Peter draws his sword and cuts off the ear of one of the guards. Jesus heals the man’s ear and tells Peter that those who live by the sword will die by it as well.
Twice Peter tries to talk Jesus out of the task he has come to accomplish. The first time is when Jesus says, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” The second time is told in this morning’s Gospel.
In today’s Gospel, Peter witnessed with only two other people an event that Christians have been trying to understand from that day on. Jesus was up on top of a mountain to pray. While he was praying, his face shone with the Glory of God; even his clothes changed. The King James Version says that they became whiter than any fuller could make them. With Jesus appeared two men, Elijah and Moses who talked with him about his departure. Jesus did not mince any words in the Gospel of Luke about suffering and dying. When he talked of his departure, he was clear about the fact that it would come in a particularly horrific way.
Now, I do think that if I were standing on a mountain with Jesus, Elijah and Moses even I would have the sense to keep my mouth shut, but not Peter. He says, “Boy, it’s a good thing I’m here! Let us make three dwellings: one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” I kind of have the mental picture that at this point the three most important figures in the Judeo-Christian tradition just look at Peter with blank expressions on their faces. Much like in comedies when everything stops and you can hear crickets chirruping in the background. But if you think about what Peter was trying to do, this is a very kind, compassionate and loving thing to say. Peter loved Jesus. He risked his life everyday to follow him and eventually loses his life for the sake of Jesus. He hears what Jesus and Elijah and Moses are talking about and he was trying to find a solution. It was almost as if he was saying, “Jesus, you don’t have to do this. We can build you a little abode here on the mountaintop and hide you. You can stay here in peace and not be bothered by anyone. We will even build a place for Elijah and Moses if you want. You don’t have to suffer and die. Not for us.” This time, the Father himself speaks to Peter from a cloud and says, “Peter, listen to what he has been telling you.”
Peter did us such a wonderful favor, because in his very average human state he did great things for the kingdom of God. He was not a St. Stephen who prayed for the mobs even as they stoned him to death. He wasn’t a St. Paul who explained minute details of Christology to us. He was just Peter. He was flawed; he was rash; he was emotional; he was just like us. When it came time to stand before all the legions of Rome, he even denied he knew Jesus name. Yet later, in his brokenness, in his very average humanness, he stood before the angry crowds in the city of Rome itself, a sinner redeemed by the Grace of God, and led untold thousands to Christ.
As I look back on my own life, sometimes I find it comical, but usually find it embarrassing the number of times that I can now see that God was telling me his will with perfect clarity. It is just that I wouldn’t stop telling him what I wanted long enough to hear. But thank goodness God can work around foolish behavior. He did with Peter, and he can with us. St. Paul said, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and He has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” If God can work so profoundly through Simon the Fisherman imagine what he could do with our own ordinary state. We only have to listen to what he has been telling us.