Have you ever thought much about Simon Peter? I mean, really thought about him? This is the disciple about whom Jesus said, upon this rock, I will build my church, so there must be something about him. Right?
It's interesting because it is John whom we know is the disciple "Jesus loved," and from a human standpoint, if I'm going to do something big and crazy and unimaginable in the world, perhaps it's best if I do it with someone I love. Or there's Levi (Matthew), the tax collector, who we can assume has become a more honest man in his years of ministry with Jesus. And again, if I'm Jesus, maybe I do my biggest thing with the guy who has shown the most transformation as a result of being with me for three years. Or there's Judas. Yes, Judas Iscariot. There are still Christians among us who like to preach fire and brimstone, who like to emphasize the disaster that awaits us in turning away from Christ. If that's what Jesus had in mind for His church, then of course, He builds it on Judas Iscariot, the betrayer who hangs himself. So I say again, there must be something about Simon Peter.
It's easy to say that perhaps Jesus was just talking about the way evangelism was going to play out, that He knew Simon Peter was going to be the one to go out and spread to the message, to plant the churches, to shepherd the sheep. That Jesus was placing a higher calling on Simon Peter. And maybe that's true. It happens all the time, after all. And the God who spent the Old Testament appointing prophets could certainly spend the New appointing teachers. And it's true that the earliest Gospel manuscripts we have are those of Mark, who wrote Simon Peter's testimony, which makes Simon Peter's story truly foundational to all that would come after.
But still, I think, there's something special about Simon Peter.
We see, and hear, Simon Peter more than any other disciple in the Gospels. Every time you turn around, Simon Peter is center stage yet again. He's...impetuous, to say the least. He's passionate, for sure. He's fully invested in this Jesus thing, as fully as he can be, and he's always looking for ways to show it, even if that doesn't always work out for him.
Remember that it is Simon Peter who answers Jesus' question: Who do you say I am? Simon Peter asserts that this Jesus is the Messiah. It is Simon Peter who questions what more they could possibly be looking for. To where would we go? It is Simon Peter who, privileged to see the Transfiguration, proposes building shelters for the three prophets, simply because he doesn't really know what else to say at that moment and, well, what we know about Simon Peter is that he struggles at times (ok, all the time) to stay quiet.
It was Simon Peter who stepped out of the boat and was only the second man in all the world to walk on water. He sunk, sure, but no one else stepped out after him. It was Simon Peter who followed Jesus into the courtyard, just within earshot of the criminal proceedings. It was Simon Peter who denied three times even knowing the Man with whom he had spent three years. It was Simon Peter who broke down in tears when the rooster crowed.
It was Simon Peter who rushed to the grave upon hearing that it was empty, and it was he who stopped just short of going in - the first real hesitation we see from him in the Scriptures. And then it was Simon Peter who, hearing a man call from the shore, threw his tunic back over his weary body and jumped into the water to swim to his Savior.
Indeed, there is something special about Simon Peter.
I think Simon Peter is one of the most human characters in all of Scripture. He's one I think we can easily relate to and we see so much of ourselves in him. He makes bold confessions, but not all the time. He becomes comfortable, but not too much. He's always looking for something to do, even when he doesn't really know what to do. He takes big, uncalculated steps of faith before he can really think about it, then thinks about it perhaps a little too much and counts himself either crazy or a fool. He's not afraid to be a part of the big moments, but he's a little unsure about getting caught there.
He's the kind of guy whose heart you can hear tearing, but to see the way he handles it.... He falls victim to his own flesh again and again, but he's able to be convicted by the smallest little reminder that God truly is God. He wants to know, but he doesn't want to know. He wants to see, but he's hesitant sometimes to look. And this guy who once learned his lesson about walking on water, who knows he doesn't have the faith to do it, still doesn't hesitate to jump in and swim for it...swim for his Savior. (Let us not forget, too, that despite the intimacy they've shared over the years, Simon Peter finds it necessary to cover his nakedness before going to God, and isn't that just so...human?)
See, this is what I love about Simon Peter. He's human. I can relate to him. I can see so much of myself in him at any given time.
I think that's why Jesus chose Simon Peter to build His church. Not because Simon Peter would become a great teacher or because his testimony would become the foundation of all the Gospel. No, because Simon Peter was deeply, profoundly, beautifully, messily human. And Jesus wanted to build His church with men.
Were He to build His church on John, the disciple whom He loved, we might think we must be loved by Him to be anything at all. And although we know we are loved, we don't always feel like we are. We question. We wonder. We worry. So John, loved as he is, just won't do. Were He to build His church on Matthew, the disciple transformed by His ministry, we might think we must be something other than we are, that we, too, must undergo such a transformation. And although we're told that Jesus loves us, we always wonder if perhaps He could love us more if only we would be this or that different thing. So neither Matthew will do. Were He to build His church on Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Him, we might think our relationship with Jesus is strong-armed. We might think it's all about keeping His commands, being perfect, not betraying Him. And while we know we must keep His commands, there's quite a difference between not betraying a man and actually loving him. So Judas Iscariot, the cautionary tale, is no foundation for a church.
But Simon Peter...Simon Peter reminds us that we get simply to be men. We get to be human. We get to be excitable and a little impetuous. We get to take big steps, whether we're ready or not, and we get to fall, and we get to get back up. We get to turn our backs, then turn our faces once more. We get to do what we think is best, then be humbled by something better. We get to say things before we've thought them through, and we get to hesitate. We get to walk on water and we get to jump right in and swim for it.
It doesn't seem like the best way to build a church. There's a lot of room for error here, it seems. But I think that's okay.
Because there's also a lot of room for grace.