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MATTHEW 16: The Good, the Bad, the Peter

· Matthew

The Bible tells us surprisingly little about Jesus’ Twelve Disciples. Apart from their names and a few chosen stories, we know next to nothing about most of these pivotal figures of the early church. What was Simon the Zealot like? How about Bartholomew?

The obvious exception to this is, of course, Peter. Chances are in the gospels that if one of the disciples is opening his mouth, Peter is the one to do it (and more often than not, he immediately is forced to put his foot in it). Matthew 16 contains two of the most memorable stories about Peter. In the first (v. 13-20) we see Peter have an epiphany - when asked who Jesus is, Peter (for perhaps the first time in scripture) gets the answer exactly right. He realizes that Jesus is, not just the Messiah, but the Son of God.

In the second (v. 20-23), Peter manages to completely miss the point of the first lesson. Jesus begins explaining to His disciples that His purpose on earth is to die, but Peter chimes in to correct his Master, and proceeds to tell the Son of God that He didn’t know what He was doing Jesus’ response to Peter’s second outburst was… less complimentary than the first.

When I read this as a teenager, I simply couldn’t understand how the disciples - and especially Peter - could be so DENSE! These guys have seen the miracles! They have heard the Incarnate God preach! Peter just admitted that He KNEW who Jesus was! How can these guys still not GET it?!

As an adult, a teacher and a pastor, I no longer ask this question. As a teenager, it seemed UNBELIEVABLE that anyone would know the truth and not act on it. But now, I am surrounded by such foolishness constantly. My students know the rules, but choose to break them even knowing they will get caught. My child will tell me that he will put his clothes away, only to dump them at the top of the stairs (as if I won’t see them in five minutes when I go to check!) Parents who spend considerable money to send their child to a rigorous school will lose their minds the moment their child comes home with “C” on a test.

And then, I realize the extent to which I fail. I teach the Bible - ordination papers are on my wall - and yet in a tough moment I instinctively “shade” the truth to get out of trouble. I get stern with my students who procrastinate doing their reading only the procrastinate grading the very quiz they just took. There is not a sin or infraction for which I discipline my students or son that I have not done a hundred times before - and will almost certainly do again.

We are all Peter. As Christians, we all possess the truth, and the Spirit to remind us of it. And yet we all fail. We all must come back for the Master’s grace again and again. I think that’s partly why the Gospels include these stories of the disciples not getting it: they are a reminder that even the great Peter still fell on his face and had to get up and try again. If we intended to follow in his footsteps, we should expect the same - both of ourselves, and those along the path with us.

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