THE APOSTLE SIMON PETER (Fr. Varghese Paul, S.J.)

Simon Peter holds a unique position not only among the 12 Apostles but also among all the disciples who were privileged to closely interact with Jesus. Not only the four Gospels but also the Acts and some other books of the New Testament speaks about or refer to Simon Peter.

Simon Peters unique position among the college of Apostles is that Jesus himself appointed him the rock firm foundation of his Church. For, Jesus said to Peter, And so I tell you, Peter: you are a rock, and on this rock foundation I will build my Church, and not even death will ever be able to overcome it (Mt. 16,18).

Jesus further told Simon, I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven; what you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and what you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven (Mt.16, 19).

This primary position given to Simon Peter is reinforced again after Jesus resurrection. In spite of Peter denying to know him, Jesus reinstates Peter and asks him three times during his post resurrection apparition to Feed my Sheep. (See Jn 21, 15-18).

Simon was a fisherman when Jesus called him to be his disciple. He was a native of Bethsaida on the shore of Galilee. He married and lived at Capernaum. Simon and his brother Andrew earned their living by fishing until Jesus called them to be his disciple catching men! (Lk 5,10).

According to the Synoptic Gospels of Mathew, Mark and Luke, Simon and his brother, Andrew were called by Jesus, when they were fishing in lake Galilee. (See Mt. 4, 18-22; Mk 1, 16-20 & Lk 5, 2-11).

According to Johns Gospel, it was Andrew, a disciple of St. John the Baptist, who met Jesus first and he told his brother Simon about Jesus and took him to Jesus. When the two brothers approached, Jesus looked at Simon and said, Your name is Simon son of John, but you will be called Cephas(Jn 1, 42).

As Ronald Brownrigg in his book Whos Who the New Testament, says of all the personalities in the New Testament, perhaps we know most about the character of Peter. He is the more attractive for his constant mistakes and forgiveness, his boisterous and impetuous enthusiasm, and for his good intentions and self-confidence that so soon seemed to disappear. At first he seems to have been a surprising choice as the Rock upon which Jesus was to found his Church. But he justified his choice by an example that has inspired and encouraged Christians down the centuries.

Peter is a person with many characteristic qualities. So his life can be treated from many angles. He was impulsive by nature. When Peter sees Jesus walking on the water he too wants to go on the water. So Mathew narrates, Then Peter spoke up. Lord, if it is really you, order me to come out on the water to you (Mt 14, 28).

Peters word at Jesus Transfiguration shows his impulsive nature. So Peter spoke up and said to Jesus, Lord, how good it is that we are here! If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah (Mt.17, 4). Again in Johns Gospel, Peter reacts impulsively when he recognized Jesus standing on the lakeshore. The disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, It is the Lord! When Peter heard that it was the Lord, he wrapped his outer garment round him (for he had taken his clothes off) and jumped into the water (Jn 21, 7).

Peter was also a tenderhearted and affectionate person. The tenderness in his impulsive character is seen very well in the washing of feet of the Apostles. Peter who refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet says at the end, Simon Peter answered, Lord, do not wash only my feet, then! Wash my hands and head, too! (Jn 13, 9)

The love and affectionate nature of Peter helps him to repent and come back to Jesus after denying him.

Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard when one of the High Priests servant-girls came to him and said, You, too, were with Jesus of Galilee.

But he denied it in front of them all. I dont know what you are talking about, he answered, and went on out to the entrance of the courtyard. Another servant-girl saw him and said to the men there, He was with Jesus of Nazareth.

After a little while the men standing there came to Peter. Of course you are one of them, they said, After all, the way you speak gives you away!

Then Peter said, I swear that I am telling the truth! May God punish me if I am not! I do not know that Man!

Just then a cock crowed, and Peter remembered what Jesus had told him: before the cock crows, you will say three times that you do not know me. He went out and wept bitterly. (Mt 26, 69-75).

On the one hand we see Peters cowardly denial of knowing Jesus! On the other hand we also see his courage in his confession of faith and his determination to follow Jesus at all costs. When Jesus asked his disciple, who do you say I am, Simon Peter answered, You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Mt 16, 16).

Again in St. John, So he asked the twelve disciples, And you - would you also like to leave?

Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. And now we believe and know that you are the Holy One who has come from God (Jn 6, 67-69).

Peters courage and determination is seen when Peter takes the leadership of the disciples and fearlessly proclaim Jesus after his resurrection. Both Luke and Paul mention that Jesus appeared especially to Peter alone on the day of the resurrection.

After Peters denial of knowing Jesus we do not hear or see Peter till the first day of Jesus resurrection! But Peter was a totally changed person after his encounter with the risen Jesus.

I recall here specially two churches, which I visited on both my trips to the Holy Land in 1977 and in 1998. First, the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu is built at the place where Peter said on oath that he did not know Jesus. Second, the Church of the Primacy of Peter is built on Galilee shore, enclosing a large rock called Mensa Christi where Jesus appeared and prepared break for the fishing disciples after he was risen.

This was also the place where Peter was commissioned to feed my sheep. Thus, on that rock Jesus entrusted Peter with the responsibility of being the head of the Church.

Peters first job after Jesus ascension was to find a replacement for Judas. His speech to the fellow apostles and other disciples was very inspiring and impressive. Then, he fearlessly defends John and himself before the Jewish authorities and proclaims the risen Lord Jesus to the High Priests and other Jewish leaders!

Peters eloquent call to conversion was sometimes followed by miracles. Peter healed Aeneas the paralytic at Lydda. He raised to life Doreas, the woman of many good works to her neighbour at Joppa, now Jaffa.

At Joppa Peter received the vision. He saw heaven opened and something coming down that looked like a large sheet being lowered by its four corners to the earth. In it were all kinds of animals, reptiles, and wild birds. A voice said to him, Get up, Peter; kill and eat!

But Peter said, Certainly not, Lord! I have never eaten anything ritually unclean or defiled.

The voice spoke to him again, Do not consider anything unclean that God has declared clean. This happened three times, and then the thing was taken back up into heaven (Acts 10, 4-16). This vision helped Peter to understand that the new religion, which he was preaching, was not only for the Jewish people but also for the Gentiles.

We know very little about Peters missionary activities outside Palastime. Ronald Brownrigg in Whos Who the New Testament says Eusebius (265-340) and Origen (185-253) declare that he went to Rome and, as an old man, suffered martyrdom by crucifixion head downwards, during the reign of Nero, probably in AD 68.

In the New Testament there are two letters attributed to Peter. The biblical scholars say that the first letter reflect the teaching and message of Peter. The first letter is addressed to the Churches in Asia Minor to help them to face violent persecution bravely and encourage them to be firm in the faith.

In the second letter the author warns large number of Christians to be on their guard against false teachers and evildoers in the Church. The letter is also meant to assure the Christians about the second coming of Jesus Christ.

The second letter attributed to Peter was written according to Brownrigg at least a hundred years after his death. But some bible scholars maintain that the second letter is also written by Simon Peter probably between 65 and 68, that is, before he was martyred during the reign of Nero at Rome.

Anyway, As Brownrigg in Whos Who the New Testament says The inclusion within the New Testament of this letter is not based upon its authorship, but upon its intrinsic value recognized by the Church as the authentic voice of apostolic teaching.

In the first Jerusalem Council Peters words were decisive. In the Acts we read, After a long debate Peter stood up and said, My brothers, you know that a long time ago God chose me from among you to preach the Good News to the Gentiles, so that they could hear and believe. And God, who knows the thoughts of everyone, showed his approval of the Gentiles by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he had to us.

He made no difference between us and them; he forgave their sins because they believed. So then, why do you now want to put God to the test by laying a load on the backs of the believers which neither our ancestors nor we ourselves were able to carry? No! We believe and are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they are (Acts 15, 7-11).

Today Peters ministry of spiritual leadership in the Church continues through his successors, the Popes.
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