Peter the Rock

 Peter2 The oldest surviving icon of St. Peter (6th century)

St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai

They call me “the Rock”, but that wasn’t always my name.

I grew up being called Simon – and my name was still Simon when Jesus first called me. I was out on the lake one day, fishing with my brother Andrew, when Jesus came along and asked us both to follow him. Well, it was a crazy thing to do, but we did leave our nets in the boat and follow him – and that was just the first of many, many changes in my life.

You see, I loved the Galilee, and I loved fishing. It’s rough work, I know, with long days and cold nights, and times when there don’t seem to be any fish in the lake, and times when there are so many fish that you can’t sell them in the market.

But there’s something about being out on that lake, the boat resting on the waters, surrounded by that ring of golden hills and waiting for the fish to come – I guess you have to be a fisherman to really understand. And that was the first thing that happened; he took me away from the lake and said I was going to learn to fish for people.

Well, you know, I’m not always that good with people. I was used to giving orders on the fishing boat, and while my brother Andrew took orders pretty well, not everyone likes being ordered about. Sometimes, when you want someone to do something, you have to talk them into it. That takes a lot of time, and to be frank, I’d rather be fishing.

Another problem I have with people is that I’m wrong sometimes. Everyone makes mistakes, you say. Well, you’re right, but I’ve REALLY made some mistakes. And the worst of it is, I’ll say something that’s wrong, and someone will object, and then I’ll just say it louder, and they’ll object some more, and by that time I’m yelling. You don’t make friends that way.

And worst of all – maybe you’d never guess it to look at me (even now that I’m old, I’m still big and strong) – but a lot of times I’m afraid of what people may think. Being afraid of people led to the worst mistake I ever made – but I’ll talk about that in a while.

So how did I ever get to be called Peter, the Rock? It happened like this.

We were still in the Galilee region, but we had gone away from the lake up to Caesarea Philippi, and we were all amazed by those gorgeous buildings, the marble temples dedicated to the Greek gods and the Roman emperors. So we were standing around, talking about the Greeks and the Romans and about their great men, when all of a sudden Jesus asked us, “Who do people say  I  am? The others were all guessing – saying things like “Elijah” or “Jeremiah” and even “John the Baptist,” when I blurted it out – as usual, talking without thinking first – and I said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

Even while I heard myself saying that, I thought, “Where did that come from?” But Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For it is my Father in Heaven who has told you this. And I tell you this – you are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my community.” Well, he called me the Rock, but my knees were shaking.

You’d think being called the Rock by Jesus would make your day, but that day in Caesarea Philippi was one of the worst days of my life. Because then Jesus began to talk about going to Jerusalem, and he told us that he would be killed. I just couldn’t imagine what life would be like without him – and without thinking (I told you that happens a lot), I grabbed him by the arm and gave him orders: “God forbid! That will never happen to you!”

With anyone else it might have turned into a shouting match, but Jesus just turned and looked at me, and then he said, “Get behind me, Satan! You’re just getting in my way –  you’re thinking the way humans think, not the way God thinks.”

So I thought, I’m the Rock on which his community is going to be built? A man who sticks his foot in his mouth, a man who really ought to be out in a boat on the Galilee catching fish?

But it got worse. We did go to Jerusalem, and they did arrest him. And while they were questioning him, a woman came up and said to me, “You’re one of his friends! You’re from Galilee!” And I said, “I don’t know what you mean.” I walked away from her, but then another woman came up and said, “You  are  one of Jesus’ followers!” And I said in a louder voice, “I don’t know the man!” And then some others came up and said, “You are a friend of Jesus!” And then I yelled and swore at them, “I tell you, I don’t know the man!”

And then the cock crowed, and I knew that this was truly the worst day of my life.

And then I ran away.

But Jesus had asked me to take care of his disciples, and after he died, I tried to keep them together. I got them to talk about him, and about what he had taught us, but it wasn’t the same. Even those times when he came back to us in the upper room, it wasn’t the same for me. You’d think those would have been the best days of my life, because now I knew he was alive again. But mostly what I felt was sadness, because I had denied him. I knew I could never be the Rock for him; I was too weak.

So I told the men to come with me to the Galilee, and we went fishing again. At least I know how to fish, and there was nothing better to do. We fished all night – but it was one of those nights. And when the sun was coming up, there was a man on the beach and he called to us, “Have you caught any fish?”  We had to admit the nets were empty. So he said, “Cast the nets on the right side of the boat!” And we did, and there were so many fish in the net that we couldn’t haul them in.

Then I understood who that man was: he was Jesus. Not only was he alive, but he was still teaching us, telling us how to do things. I couldn’t believe it – after what I had done, after what I had said, he was still coming around! We got to the beach as quick as we could, and he fed us breakfast, and that was the time I really knew that he was alive, and that he still loved us.

So I was starting to feel better when he said to me, “Simon, do you love me?” It broke my heart – of course I loved him. But he asked me that question two more times – three times in all: “Simon, do you love me?”

Finally I said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And he said, “Feed my sheep: take care of my people.” He never said, “You denied me!” He just asked me to take care of his people.

So how is a weak man – a man who gets confused, a man who is afraid, a man who’s not much use with people, a man who’s just a fisherman – how is a man like that supposed to take care of Jesus’ people? I’m afraid it will be like spending all night in the boat again, without catching anything.

But I have learned something – if I listen to him, he’ll show me the way. So I’m going to do this next part of my life in a new way. I’m going to stop assuming I know what to do, even about fishing. I’m going to wait for his instructions.

And I do know his instructions will come.  I’ll be in a room with the doors closed, and he’ll be there. I’ll be thinking hard, trying to figure out what to do for his people, and he’ll be there.  I’ll be in a boat out on the lake, and he’ll be there.  I’ll be praying in a room somewhere, and his Spirit will bring me directions for the next step.

It’s not going to be as easy as fishing was, when I was in charge of my own life. Fish are easy compared to people.   It’s going to be hard to wait for him, to listen to his Spirit teaching me, instead of just getting to work, or yelling out orders to the others. That’s the hard part – listening to him, instead of trying to do it all myself. But I’ve been through so many changes by now, one more can’t be that bad.

So they all can call me the Rock now, that’s fine with me – even if I know, and even if they find out, that I can be just as confused, and stubborn, and afraid as they are.

A rock, after all, is just another rock if you find it on the lake shore; but a rock in Jesus’ pocket is something you can count on.

For more about Peter, go to

Called to be a disciple:  Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20, Luke 5:1-11, John 1:35-42
Leader among the disciples: Matthew 16:16-19, 17:1-8;
Mark 8:27-33, 10:28-31; Luke 9:18-36

At the Last Supper and the Crucifixion: Matthew 26:20-35, 69-75;
John, chapters 13-20
With the Risen Christ: Luke, chapter 24; John, chapter 21
Leader of the growing church: Acts, chapters 1-12



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