The Way of Beauty Walking with Peter: The Neophyte

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He stood tall, burly, and hot-headed, an uneducated common man, a seasoned fisherman from Bethsaida, a town on the Sea of Galilee, and using human logic, hardly the one suited for ministry.  The fifteenth-century Florentine painter Masaccio depicts him with a full head of curly hair, furrowed brow, daring eyes, straight nose a la Fiorentina, and a well-trimmed beard.  You wouldn't want to mess with him.  So, what was Jesus thinking when he signaled, "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church?" Would you have chosen Peter to lead the Twelve?

Profile of First-Century Fishermen

It was essential that Galilean fishermen be physically fit to manage their livelihood.  Theirs was the daily grind of long hours that confronted the unforgiving elements of nature:  heat, wind and rain, and turbulent storms. Sea monsters could surprise fishermen by capsizing their boats, and the fishermen were no match for them. The all-encompassing watchword for danger?  Alertness at all times.

Boats, nets, sails, and ropes had to be kept in good working order.  Each time the boat set sail, food and a supply of dry clothes had to be placed on board. For fishermen and their families, there was no other livelihood except plying their trade until they were no longer able to do so.

The Call of Peter

One day, Peter and his brother Andrew, also a fisherman, are busy as usual attending to their work. According to the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, Jesus walks along the water's edge and summons them to follow him. In Luke's Gospel, Jesus gets into Peter's boat while the brothers are washing their nets. Jesus tells them to let down their nets. All through the night they have caught nothing. Who is this man telling them how to run their business from their boat?  

Peter raises a mild objection, but to humor this intruder, surrounded by the crowd of people, Peter lowers the nets. Stunned, he hauls in two boat loads of fish that tear at the nets.  Then Jesus tells him not to be afraid, "from now on, it is men you will catch."  The Synoptic writers close the respective sections on the calling of the disciples with the phrase, "They left everything and followed him-at once." 

Who was this rabbi who, by the sheer force of his personality, could persuade them to abandon their families and livelihood?  Follow him? Where, they wondered to themselves.

Later when they retrieve their bearings, they shrewdly remind Jesus straight to his face: 'We have left all things to follow you.' In other words, what will they get in return for leaving all? 

Peter's Impetuosity

Peter is the one who heads the list of the apostles; he speaks for the group.  Apart from Jesus, he is the person most often mentioned in the Gospels.  Peter becomes part of the Lord's inner circle of three who observe the ministry and miracles of Jesus.  

When Jesus asks Peter, "Who do men say that I am," Peter blurts out, "You are the Christ the Son of the living God, the Messiah." The miracles are signs of Jesus' divinity. 

Yet, when Jesus predicts his passion and for the first time, Peter, brash and impetuous, speaks up before he thinks.  He takes Jesus aside and rebukes him for saying such a thing.  How could the Messiah be subject to suffering and death? Obviously, Peter doesn't want to lose his Lord and friend.

Clearly irritated, Jesus turns to him with a rebuke of his own: "Get behind me, you devil! The way you think is not God's way but man's." Jesus knows that he must fulfill the Old Testament prophecies which centuries before, predicted that the expected Messiah, the Suffering Servant, would be despised and rejected by men.

In all likelihood, Peter isn't familiar with the prophecies in Psalm 22, Psalm 24, Psalm 60; Isaiah 53,  Ez 37:1-15, 2 Macc 7:57. His companionship with Jesus hasn't as yet changed his thinking or his attitude, his understanding or his words. Still stuck in the ways of the world, Peter's conversion will begin to take root when he betrays Jesus.

The Transfiguration

Jesus takes the inner circle, Peter, James, and John, up to a mountain where he is transfigured before them. Peter is so overwhelmed by this sublime experience that he wants to stay up there; he wants to build three tents. One would expect this desire from a child but not a grown man.  It's wonderful to have those high points in life, but for the most part, life is lived in the valley where darkness comes to everyone regardless of the source.  Jesus has given them a glimpse of glory before he encounters suffering and death. No, the experience up there must be momentary.  They have to leave the mountain and return to the daily grind.  Companionship with Jesus means imitating him everywhere and in all things.

More in The Way of Beauty

(To be continued.)

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