St. Peter is my favorite disciple. He was appointed to lead the apostolic team, and obviously honored greatly in the Early Church and yet the Gospel-writers pull no punches in telling us about Peter’s flaws. In the highly political context in which we seek to live as Christians here in the United States, bloggers eagerly pounce on every error they perceive in our Christian leaders. Often the stories pedaled are over-blown, inaccurate, and their purpose is to demonstrate the virtue of their case. We love to demolish those we oppose.
The Gospels — Paul also “withstood Peter to his face” — point us in a different direction. After all Peter’s lapses, even his final denial that he knew Jesus, our Lord tells him to feed his sheep and lambs, the exposed, vulnerable original band of Christians to whom Jesus entrusted the creation of his Church. Peter’s qualification to lead was not based on his talents or suitability, his virtue or freedom from error, but simply on his vocation, his calling.
I think of Peter at the Last Supper, as Jesus prepares to wash the feet of his friends, gather in that Upper Room. When Jesus announces that he is going to be a slave, and wash the feet of the guests, the sort of duty performed by a servant/slave in a wealthy home, Peter objects. I read similar objections on a Facebook page yesterday. Why object? Peter didn’t believe he was worthy and was probably embarrassed. Peter had to learn that the humble offering his Lord was making was not only a lesson about servant leadership, as important as that is. The message is deeper. Jesus was saying to Peter, as he says to his Church, to you and to me, “If you are going to do my will you must be prepared to accept the embarrassment which comes when God, whose face we see in Jesus, stoops to touch us, cleanse us, welcome us and feed us.” Until we can accept God’s condescension, we will continue to rely on our own ability, or own strength, our own courage. And then we will deny Him and run away.