Learning from humble fishermen…

Peter, Peter, …

Lectionary Readings:

  • Acts 5:27-32

Childhood memories, especially childhood memories from beach-houses and idyllic holidays, are usually the best moments etched in our minds. Well, not all of them…

Our school year was the US one, not the Panamanian one – at odds with all my friends.   One of the benefits, was that whenever we’d spend our holiday at the beach, we’d have the beach completely to ourselves.  Us and the fishermen.

Our beach was fabulous, except for the occasional jellyfish  It was very unusual for us to get them still alive, but their dead bodies wash up on the shore regularly.  A little scientific research, and I found the following:

even detached tentacles from the jellyfish itself can still sting and cause you pain, irritation, allergic reaction etc. It’s important to understand that the nematocysts (stinging structures found in the tentacles) can remain very active long after the jellyfish is dead, as long as two weeks.[1]

I didn’t get a live one – I got a tentacle wound around a leg.  Initially it was just pain in my calf, then on the thigh where it had stung some more, then the realisation that the leg was going numb… By this stage, my beach holiday was miserable… The pain and the fear.

What do you do? Grab your child, stick them in the car, and run off to the ER – about a 20 to 30 minute drive away.  One problem: Mum & Dad didn’t HAVE a car.  We’d been dropped off at the beach, and were to be picked up at the end of the holiday.  No cell-phone.  No phone lines. No electricity. No taxis… Just us, the beach, and a few fishermen.

So off to the fisherman’s house we go!  He was home.  He had them sit me on a stool in his dining room, and then rubbed my leg down with some oil that he had sitting in a bottle on the shelf.   Apparently, though, that wasn’t enough – the poison had been in my leg for too long already and he was worried it was going to my heart.  So he pours a glass of this oil, for me to drink.  Cod Liver Oil. All of it.  Down.  Now.

Please God, NEVER AGAIN.

One day of rest, and it’s all back to normal!

Today, I’d like to talk to you about a Fisherman you’ve probably heard about a lot:  Peter.

We find him today before the Sanhedrin, questioned by the high priest:

28 We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” … “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.

29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God [that…] raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 … that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.

The Peter that Jesus asked to follow him, this isn’t the same Peter we find standing before the Sanhedrin.

I can only imagine that Peter grew up in a home quite like that of the fisherman I visited.  No school. No cool electronics and gadgets. Nets mended and repaired over and over again.

And then Jesus shows up.  Peter had a choice. He left the world’s security behind him and chose to walk with Christ. … it’s a walk of faith. He left that boat, the net, the bankroll of fish and began a new fishing enterprise:   Peter and Co. Fishers of Men. “we catch ’em, God cleans ’em”

The Peter we know from the Bible was brash, bold, opinionated, emotional, volatile, quick to talk, and he made a ton of mistakes. We love him because there’s a lot of Peter in each of us. We know this Peter: he’s proud – so proud that he couldn’t possibly let Jesus wash his feet, he tells everyone what to do, he speaks and acts before he thinks, he chopped off the, and he even walked on water for a moment in true faith.   But inside, a fearful man.

And yet, Peter was to be the Rock on which the church was to be built.

We may envy the closeness he had with God: That special relationship with God; that constant communication with Him.  Like many of the other “heros” we find in the Bible:  I envy what they could accomplish for God. It was amazing how God can take these weak and imperfect individuals and do such amazing things through them that they could so greatly impact people. Unswerving faith. They trusted God when it didn’t make sense, when it wasn’t popular and when things were not going their way. They are legends that we are talking about thousands of years later because of the kind of faith that they had: “That’s the type of person that I want to be” or “that is the type of faith that I would like to have.”

Peter, this is the man:

  • When Jesus was on the mountain and was transfigured with Moses and Elijah it was Peter who wanted to stay and build shelters for all three of them.
  • When Jesus asks: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”, and then followed by the questions: “But what about you, Who do you say I am?” Peter is the only one to respond: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
  • When Jesus told Peter he was going to be killed it was Peter who said he would die with him. It was Peter who assured Jesus that even if everyone else denied him he wouldn’t.
  • It was Peter who drew his sword and cut off Malchus’ ear as the soldiers came to arrest Jesus.

Peter’s greatest desire was to be with Jesus – we see this when he walks on water:

  • The disciples are out to sea and there is a great storm around them. These experienced fishermen, they were afraid. Jesus walks out on the water towards them. Peter speaks up and says, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Peter wanted to get to Jesus. And yet, even when Peter stepped out of the boat, and he became afraid because of the wind, taking his eyes off of Jesus and sinking. He cried out some of the most amazing words in the entire Bible: “Lord, save me”. Three simple words so packed with meaning.

When Jesus asks if the disciples will turn their backs on him, it’s Peter that responds:   “to whom shall we go, you alone have the words of eternal life, we believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Then we see Peter, at the height of Jesus’ popularity and triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  Celebrating and happy that HE is on the side of the Messiah.

I can just imagine him:  “Yeah, I’m one of his disciples.  You know, I’ve known him probably the longest out of all of us.  And I’ve got an inside track with him, ‘cos I’m important, you know.  I was picked to be one of the elite, of this special force that’s with him.”  Chest puffed out.

And so, imagine Peter’s complete confusion when Jesus, somehow, before his eyes, changes.  Jesus starts to talk about death.  And how salvation isn’t going to be war or rebellion.  There’s not going to be any glory in battle.   He’s going to go to the cross.

The same Peter that sworn that he would never turn his back on Jesus and that he would follow him to the death – suddenly he doesn’t recognise Jesus any more.  This isn’t what I signed up for – we’ve supposed to triumph – we’ll be famous.  What on EARTH are you talking about?   How is your death supposed to help our cause?

And so we find Peter, doing exactly as Jesus told him that he would: denying him three times. After Jesus was handed over to the Pharisees and the Romans, Peter stuck around to watch. Three times he was recognized as one of Jesus’ disciples, and three times Peter denied it, even cursing the name of Jesus.

And then Jesus looked into his eyes.  I can’t imagine the pain of the moment: because I’m sure that in Christ’s look there was no accusation.  Not even pity.  It would have been a look of love “it’s okay, I understand, and I forgive you”.  Not I told you so.

All his bravado and declarations, gone.  On the most important night of his life—on the most important night in history—Peter, “the Rock,” sat alone in a dark corner weeping. This wasn’t common place for him. He was a strong self-reliant fisherman. He was bold! He was courageous! And now, he was completely undone. The Rock had been shattered.

And it’s only upon that shattered Rock that Jesus can build the church.  Peter needed to stop trusting in the physical, in his strength, in his motivation, in his way of seeing the world, and accept that there was another way.  Peter had human courage, but he lacked spiritual courage.  He was brave, but only as far as he had control of the situation.

Every single day we make choices that show whether we are courageous or cowardly. We choose between the right thing and the convenient thing, sticking to a conviction or caving in for the sake of comfort, greed or approval. We choose to believe in God and trust him, even when we do not always understand his ways, or to second-guess him and try to do it on human strength.

When we’ve been broken and then revived by the Holy Spirit, we will follow in spite of the masses; we’ll be faithful in spite of public opinion; powerful in spite of the lukewarm standards.

That’s the Peter we find standing before the Sanhedrin.  The one that has been purified by the fire of trials and knows what he really looks like on the inside – has thrown “himself” away and allowed himself to be filled by the Holy Spirit.

Most of us are like the Buddhist scholar that comes to see the Zen Master.  An expert: we talk about our extensive doctrinal backgrounds and how much we’ve studied and learned.  And the master listens patiently and makes tea. When it’s ready, he pours it into the scholar’s cup, until it’s overflowing and runs over the floor. 

The scholar jumps up, crying “Stop, stop! The cup is full: you can’t get any more in.” 

And the master replied: “You are like this cup: you are full of your own ideas of the way.  You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is already full.  I can’t put anything in it. Before I can teach you, you have to empty your cup.” 

If we want to be filled with the Spirit of God, and let like Peter, we need to allow Jesus to shatter the rock of our own illusions of grandeur.

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