He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it."
I always thought Peter tended to get a bit unfairly characterized as the impulsive man with a big mouth and no follow-through. Comparatively, at any rate, he certainly seems to show a lot more devotion than the other disciples: a lot of zeal with some real evidence of love. I mean, let’s think of the things he tends to be criticized for:
- Jesus is walking on the water in a storm. When Peter realizes that it is him, he asks if he can join him on the water, and then he proceeds to walk out of the boat in the middle of a raging storm in order to be near him. Apparently he got a little scared, but I mean, everyone else was still on the boat.
- He and James and John see Christ transfigured standing between Moses and Elijah. Peter is the one who speaks up and wants to set up a place of worship for the Messiah and those who have prepared the way.
- He drew his sword to defend Jesus in the garden. Apparently he should have known that Jesus wanted to get arrested. In any case, his later denial is more complicated than a mere fear of death; he was willing to die defending Jesus right then and there.
- Which brings us to his most infamous shortcoming: he denied Christ... when all the other disciples other than John had fled and hid. Peter and John risked their lives to follow Jesus all the way to the High Priest’s courtyard. John apparently had connections with the High Priest, so it was Peter who was most vulnerable in that moment, and he had willingly placed himself in that situation.
Whatever faults Peter had, it didn’t seem to be a lack of follow-through, and it hardly seems to be fear. At the Last Supper Peter declared that he was willing to lay down his life for Jesus, and in the Garden of Gethsemane he showed himself willing to put his money where his mouth was. Peter showed no hesitation dying for the Messiah.
No, where Peter failed in the gospel reading from this morning, quoted at the top of this page, was not a fear of dying for the Messiah, but of suffering beside him. Peter was all too willing to die in order to establish the reign of the triumphant King of the Jews; he was not prepared, no matter how many times Jesus foretold it, for the Messiah to be the one doing the dying. The only way to follow a dying Messiah is to suffer shame and humiliation beside him, to give ones back to those who beat him, ones cheeks to those who plucked his beard, not shielding ones face from buffets and spitting. It is not to die for him; it is to die with him.
Peter’s difficulty is still ours today. The Messiah did indeed come, but the fact that he is not the kind of Messiah we feel that we so desperately need has not become any easier. We are still as confused as we ever were. We are still waiting even after his resurrection. And he is still exhorting us to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses, and to follow him into his suffering and our own.