Peter didn’t always know what it meant to follow Jesus.
When he witnessed the astonishing event of Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah on the mountain during Jesus’ transfiguration, all he could think to do was to offer to build shrines, places for each of them to live. When he sees Jesus walking on the water he boldly climbs out of the boat, seemingly full of confident faith, yet when the wind and waves appear too much, he flounders in fear.
When Jesus offered to wash Peter’s feet, he felt completely unworthy and so declined; yet when Jesus responded that it was necessary in order for Peter to be a part of him, Peter’s love poured forth: “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:9, NRSV)
Peter was a searcher with a good heart. He stumbled but tried to follow as best as he could, always open to growing in his relationship with Jesus, even if that growth involved some pain. He was full of emotion, giving himself completely to Jesus at one moment, but then fearfully retreating from Jesus the next.
Peter was genuine in all of his interactions with Jesus. He boldly declared his belief that Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 16:16), and then turned around and questioned and chastised Jesus for talking about the suffering that lay on the horizon (Matthew 16:22). It may have been bumbling and inappropriate, but it was genuine. Peter genuinely offered Jesus his entire being – the good and the bad.
Peter genuinely desired to follow Jesus, even if he didn’t always know exactly what that meant; and he was willing to offer his entire self, even his shortcomings.
If you reflect on your spiritual walk, how do Peter’s various responses to Jesus resonate with your experience? How willing are you to offer your entire self to God – including your shortcomings? Peter was willing to offer Jesus his entire self – shortcomings and all – because intuitively he knew that Jesus had created safe space between them. His intuition was correct. Jesus had created safe space, because Jesus understood Peter. He knew how truly human Peter was. He knew that deep down in his heart Peter desired to follow him, even though Peter’s understanding and capabilities were dramatically limited.
Jesus knew Peter well enough to call him the rock upon which he would build his church; yet also knew him well enough to predict accurately that before the rooster crowed twice, Peter would deny three times that he even knew him at all.
We are like Peter. We too are truly human, with all of the frailties and limitations that brings. And just as he understood Peter, Jesus also understands us. Jesus knows that there are times when we want to follow; yet there are other times when we choose to shy away. But Jesus’ call to Peter was to follow, not at a distance—not in the shadows, afraid of what might happen next—but to move into the light and follow boldly, whatever came his way.
This is Jesus’ call to us as well. Jesus knows how limited our resources are. He knows that life is full of choices, temptations, complex situations where we become confused and frightened. Yet he desires our faith to be real and authentic, and he calls us to follow him anyway, closely and not at a distance.
Do you sense a “safe space” between you and God? If not, as you enter into a time of prayer, bring that experience honestly before God. Be open to the way the Holy Spirit might move in response to your need. Step out in courage, knowing Jesus understands that you are fully human, with all the frailties and limitations (but also with all the creativity and boldness) that brings.