Today we have another story about Peter. He is an interesting man. He is the leader of Jesus’s followers, during the time when Jesus was on earth, and also after Jesus ascended into heaven. What can we learn from the story of Peter?
In the story today [To see the words of today’s Gospel, click here.] Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?”
His followers give different answers — Elijah, John the Baptist, Jeremiah, one of the prophets. For Jesus the most important question is: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers immediately; he says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus says something very important that we all have to remember. Jesus says, “Peter, you did not learn this from any human person. God the Father taught you.” Peter knew Jesus because he listened to God the Father.
Then later on, Jesus tells them, “I am going to Jerusalem and there I am going to suffer and die. My enemies will destroy me.” Peter says, “No, that is wrong. That is never going to happen, Lord; that is impossible.” Jesus says, “You are like Satan. You are tempting me. Do not do that.” Peter knows Jesus but does not know Jesus fully. Peter depends on his own strength and his own ideas, and that is always a mistake.
You remember two Sundays ago we had the story of Jesus, walking on the water. The disciples are in the boat. There is a great storm; it is dangerous; they are rowing hard. They look off in the distance and see Jesus coming to them walking on the water. They are very afraid; they think it is a ghost. Peter says, “Lord, if it is really you, tell me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus says, “Come.” Peter gets out of the boat. Looking at Jesus, focusing on Jesus, he walks on the water towards Jesus. But then he makes a big mistake. He looks away, he looks down, sees water underneath him, looks around, sees the waves and the wind, and he is afraid and he begins to sink. And Jesus has to hold him and says, “Why do you have such little faith? Why are you doubting?” Notice: When Peter depended on his own power, on his own idea, he made his big mistake. When Peter stops looking at Jesus, not trusting Jesus, then he begins to sink.
We have the story of the Last Supper. Jesus tells all his disciples, “All of you will run away because of what will happen tonight.” And Peter says, “No, Lord, we love you; we will be with you no matter what happens.” Jesus says, “You will leave me alone.” Peter says, “No, I am willing to suffer and die for you.” Jesus says, “Really, Peter? You know, tonight, before the rooster crows, you will deny you know me three times.” Peter says, “No, Lord, that will never happen. I will be strong.” Notice: Peter depends on his own strength; he is arrogant, he thinks he can do it all by himself. Then remember what happened: Jesus is on trial and Peter is outside, warming himself near a fire. Some people come by and say, “I know who you are; you are a friend of Jesus.” Peter answers, “Oh no, not me.” People ask him three times, and Peter three times denies that he knows Jesus, that he is a friend of Jesus. Then he hears the rooster crow; he realizes he sinned, he denied Jesus and he cries bitterly. When Peter thought he was strong, he failed.
We know Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. Now we would probably tell Jesus, “Jesus, you picked Peter to be the leader, but Peter is not a great leader; he has made a lot of mistakes. He thinks he is smart and strong himself, but he is not. He sins, he fails. Better find somebody else to be the leader of your group, get somebody else, someone better.” What does Jesus do? After the resurrection Jesus meets Peter and asks him, “Peter, do you love me?” Jesus asks him the same question three times. Peter answers and says, “Yes, Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Peter now is humble. He realizes he cannot do it alone. His own power is not good enough, his own strength is very weak. He says, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” He simply promises that he will do everything the way Jesus wants him to do it. He is no longer arrogant, no longer sure of his own power. He depends on Jesus to help him. Then he becomes a good leader for his people, for the church community, for all of us. We are in the same situation. When we depend on ourselves and our own power, we become arrogant, we fail, we sin. We need to depend on Jesus to help us and make us strong.
When we are humble and recognize we do not know everything, then we must depend on the Lord to teach us the right way to be, the right way to act, the right way to live. When we are humble before God, when we are humble before the Lord, then we can do great things. We are doing it the way Jesus wants us to do it in humility, trusting Him, knowing his love for us.