Peter was portrayed in the gospels as someone who is rather vocal, somewhat impulsive and perhaps narrow-minded. Peter was born Simon, son of Jonah. I can’t help but chuckle at the meaning of ‘Simon’ which is listener or he who heard. Our introduction to Simon Peter is in Luke 5 as Jesus finishes preaching from Simon’s boat. It may be significant that it is Simon’s boat, though he has already been given the name Peter by Jesus (John 1:42) when he first became a follower.
Simon replies by explaining that they have already finished their fishing for the day and caught nothing. He may have heard Jesus, but his following appears reluctant. We generally express our pessimism expecting things to be the same all over again. Simon may have heard, but Peter was not yet a rock, or even a pebble. He needed time and instruction to grow into the solid rock that Jesus already saw and proclaimed.
I think it is interesting that no-one is noted as having commented about Jesus healing Peter’s sick mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31). It is hard to even make conjectures. Was Peter there? He says nothing positive or negative.
Peter is a witness to the miracle of raising a girl back from death in Mark 5. Then we see the incident of the storm on the Sea of Galilee. These were fishermen who had been on the sea all of their lives who were so afraid – it must have been a terrible storm. And it is Peter who impulsively shouts out to Jesus to let him come to him as He walks on the water. Everyone generally notes that Peter failed, but what they ignore is that Peter walks on water too (Matt 14:29). Does he sink, yes. But he was the only one to try to walk too. I think this is a bit impulsive, but I can’t help admiring him for putting himself out there.
Peter proclaims that Jesus is Lord, and shortly thereafter, we find him rebuking Jesus for prophesying his coming death, both in Matt 16. His juxtaposition of supporting Jesus and yet not understanding and hearing the things of Jesus can be maddening. But it is also so incredibly endearing because Peter, of all the disciples, is so easy to identify with in our sin and mistakes and lack of clarity.
In the next chapter, Matt 17, Peter witnesses the transfiguration of Jesus, together with the appearance of Elijah and Moses. Peter’s impulsive response is to set up a tent, which we can only guess is stay forever or do some other impulsive, inappropriate thing.
Also in Matthew 17, we have Peter quickly responding to criticism about whether Jesus pays the temple tax, that naturally He does. Jesus gently corrects him in this narrow-mindedness of rule-following. The possibility of an alternate, still right response doesn’t seem possible to Peter. Then Jesus tells Peter to get the tax from a fish’s mouth. This story of finding money in a fish drives home to me that Jesus is the provider of our needs. Peter was a fisherman and knows what he would usually do to obtain money for the tax, and here Jesus takes care of it the same way, but supernaturally. It is a statement a bit like Jesus saying, ‘lean on me Peter, don’t trust your own instincts; things happen differently when you are with me.’
We finally arrive at the famous denial. Peter is warned that he will deny Jesus and even denies that as being possible. Then three times he lies about knowing Jesus. He is brought back into right standing with Jesus later, but in that moment, he doesn’t seem to the be a ‘listener’ or a rock. He is rather a knee-jerk responder, as we have seen before. Peter is one of the first to run to the tomb of Jesus upon the news that tomb is empty. He still hasn’t let it sink in that, with Jesus, things happen differently.
I like thinking of Simon Peter as this impulsive person, who is all-out for Jesus. In many ways, I hope I am like this too. But I also know that Peter and I both have to mature into the people that Jesus has called us to be. Jesus called Peter as he was but knows what he can be too. Simon was called to be, and grow into being, the rock on which the church was born. Jesus calls all kinds and uses us all for his purpose.