Peter: An Unlikely Hero of Faith
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He was a relatively successful businessman -- a tradesman, heartily plying his craft with a small fleet of fishing boats that he shared with his brother and his friends. He knew the sea, his boats, his friends, his family -- and as a God-fearing Jewish man, he knew his religion. But religion was more for the formative years. It was for his wife and his children. It's not that he didn't believe, but he was a busy man, trying to earn an honest living and put bread on the table.
He was well-respected among his peers. He was tough. He was wise to the ways of the world. He was no nonsense. He called it the way he saw it -- no frills, no pretense, no foolishness. He was the kind of man who would fish all night to bring in a catch.
So when this man called Jesus arrived in his hometown of Capernaum on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, Peter paid little attention to all the chatter about the young religious teacher.
But that all changed when Jesus decided to teach the multitude at the edge of the sea.
It had been another difficult, exhausting night for Peter, his brother Andrew, and their friends James and John. Even with all of the years of experience, and the tricks of the trade, sometimes you come up empty-handed. Peter was tired and frustrated, and the crowd pressing around them as they cleaned their nets was making him furious. The nets needed to be stowed away, and he wanted to hurry home to get some sleep.
Suddenly Jesus called to him, "Simon, I'm going to jump into your boat. Push me out a little way so that I can speak to the crowd."
"Oh great," Simon thought, "I'm going to have to wait until he's done preaching before I can go home." Now he was boiling with frustration. But he had no choice. The entire town had gathered to hear this rabbi. How would he look to his friends if he refused? Reluctantly he pushed the boat out into deeper water.
Jesus stood up in the boat and began teaching the crowd. Peter tried to ignore him as he continued tidying up the boat, but even through his frustration the words spoken by this young man captured his attention. His teaching was not pompous and full of religious pleasantries like other teachers of the law. The words of Jesus were simple, straight to the point, and practical.
Simon kept working on the nets, but Jesus now had his ear.
Jesus had captured Peter's attention, but now he was ready to capture his heart. When he finished his sermon he called to Peter, "Simon, take your boat out into the deeper water and let down your nets for a catch."
Peter had just finished stowing away his neatly-folded nets. The impromptu religious service was over. The boat was tidy. It was time to go home for a few hours of sleep. Who did this teacher think he was talking to, anyway? The fish weren't cooperating.
Standing chest-deep in the water next to his boat Simon paused for a moment to asses the situation. He didn't want to be rude. After all, this was an impressive teacher of the law. Looking up at Jesus he responded with a slight laugh, "Master, we have fished all night and caught nothing."
He paused and waited for Jesus to respond. Surely he would yield to the wisdom of a seasoned fisherman. But Jesus didn't bat an eye. He simply smiled and waited for Peter to enter the world of wonder that lay before him.
The seafarer looked around for support from his partners, but their raised eyebrows and puzzled looks provided no way of escape for him. The whole town stood on the muddy shoreline waiting for his response. Again he laughed and turned his face toward Jesus. Slowly the words slipped passed his lips, "But at your word, we'll let down our nets."
Though they were exhausted, the small band smiled as they climbed into the boats and pushed out to sea -- destined to begin an adventure of faith that would take them beyond their wildest dreams.
Peter knew exactly where he wanted to go; just out far enough to be in the deep water, but not so far that they couldn't get back to shore quickly when they proved to Jesus who knew more about fishing.
The young rabbi sat silently in the bow of the vessel -- a slight smile raised the corners of his mouth as he watched the men methodically carry out their assignments. Peter was particularly gruff as he barked out orders to the other men. He was used to being in charge, and he didn't like being led where he didn't want to go, especially when he was tired. "Come on, John, pay attention. Keep the lines tight," he snarled at the youngest, and most impressionable of the group.
At the count of three they heaved the nets into the turquoise-colored water. Immediately the nets churned with activity. Across the surface of the sea, silver-bellied fish slithered over each other in a frenzied dance. Instinct took over and Peter hollered, "Bring it in, bring it in." The men snapped into action, the muscles in their arms and legs straining as they pulled thousands of glimmering fish into the boats. The weight of the catch was so massive that the nets themselves began to break.
Jesus joined in the laughter as he watched the men fill both of the vessels so full of fish that they began sinking. "Bail some of the catch, quickly," Peter hollered to his mates.
As the fish writhed and hopped in the bottom of the boat Jesus stood and grabbed hold of the mainsail. Suddenly the reality of the situation struck Peter and he shuddered. This was certainly not a normal catch, and this man now standing above him, his long hair whipping in the Galilean wind was no ordinary man. Peter stopped and looked up at Jesus. It was as if this teacher could see right through him. He felt almost naked before him, like Jesus was able to read his thoughts and see every wicked thing he had ever done.
This Jesus was truly a man sent from God.
Peter lost the strength in his legs and fell down to his knees among the fish at Jesus' feet. Unable to raise his eyes to meet the gaze of this man of power Peter declared in a quivering voice, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." The others stopped their activity and watched the drama unfold. With a look of gentleness and compassion Jesus leaned over and put his hand on the back of Peter's neck. Trembling, the fisherman looked up into his eyes through tears as Jesus declared, "Don't be afraid. From now on, you will be a fisher of men."
Peter didn't know exactly what he meant by this, but he did know that his life would never be the same. When Jesus gave him the command to follow him he did so without hesitation. It was the beginning of an odyssey with Christ that would challenge and perplex him; that would take him to the dizzying heights of transfiguration and miraculous power, and the grinding depths of betrayal and bewilderment.
And along the way, Jesus would provide one opportunity after another for this outspoken born-leader to be tested, and tried, and to be sifted like wheat. But in the end, Jesus would establish Peter as an Apostle of Faith. And on the day of Pentecost, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter would shake himself loose from the coils of his ordinary life, and live an extraordinary existence that would turn the ancient world upside down!
Later, when the Jewish religious leaders saw the boldness of Peter, and perceived that he was an uneducated and untrained fishermen, they marveled. And they realized that he had been with Jesus ().
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