|Durer's St Peter|
- Exodus 3:1-15 and Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b •
- Jeremiah 15:15-21 and Psalm 26:1-8 •
- Romans 12:9-21 •
- Matthew 16:21-28
In the Epistle for this Sunday, Paul sets a very high standard for Christian conduct: ‘Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit . . .Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer . . . Bless those who persecute you . . . Live in harmony with one another . . . Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.’ These are all admirable injunctions, of course. Yet they are also counsels of perfection. How many Christian lives actually model this ideal? How many ever have? Very, very few, is the only honest answer.
Happily, if this seems a depressing conclusion, the Gospel for this week offsets it to a considerable degree. The passage brings to the fore the strange relationship that Simon Peter had with Jesus. In part this was a result of his impulsive and vacillating character. Peter was the sort of person who could be inspired to leap over the side of a boat one moment, only to be crying out in fear the next. In terms of the whole Gospel story one vacillation is especially well known -- his behavior at ‘the time of trial’. When danger looms -- in the unlikely form of a servant girl! -- Peter's emphatic assurance of love and loyalty to Jesus is rapidly displaced by three equally emphatic denials -- 'I never knew him'.
Jesus too seems to vacillate in his attitude to Peter. Last week's Gospel recorded how, early in their relationship, Jesus declares Peter to be the ‘rock’ on which the church is to be founded. Now, in this week's passage that same rock is declared ‘a stumbling block’, someone who has to be told, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ -- a dramatic reversal indeed.
|Ford Madox Brown --Jesus Washing Peter's Feet|
Yet this fact remains. Jesus chose Peter. He made him a witness of the Transfiguration. He granted him the largest number of post-Resurrection encounters. He even washed his feet. Why? An important clue to the puzzle lies in this rebuke: ‘you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’. It is precisely Peter’s inconsistent character that equips him for the role he has been assigned. In his weakness, he is a true representative of our common humanity. In his devotion to Jesus, however faltering, he exhibits a spiritual hope of which we are all capable. Paul’s counsel of perfection is a description of that hope, but its ultimate realization is not in Peter or in us, but in Jesus. That is why he is to be hailed as true man and true God.