Introducing Simon Peter: Flawed but Faithful Disciple

Adam Hamilton February 8, 2019
Highlights from the Introduction of his book “Simon Peter: Flawed but Faithful Disciple”
 
I’ve read the Gospels dozens and dozens of times over the last forty years since I first became a follower of Jesus. Most of the time I was focused on Jesus, as the authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John intended. But recently I decided to read through the Gospels paying close attention to Simon Peter. I began to notice just how important a figure he is for each of the Gospel writers. In nearly every episode of Jesus’ life and ministry, Peter is somewhere nearby.

Most of the twelve disciples are scarcely mentioned by name in the Gospels. The disciple believed to be the “beloved disciple,” John, is mentioned about twenty times by name in the Gospels, as is Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, is mentioned twelve times. Thomas the doubter is mentioned ten times. Bartholomew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot (also known as Simon the Cananaean), and Thaddaeus (also known as Judas son of James) are mentioned only three times each. Simon Peter, on the other hand, is mentioned by name over 120 times.

Peter is not only mentioned more often than the other apostles in the Gospels, he is the leading figure among the twelve in the first half of the Acts of the Apostles. And while Peter and Paul had a bit of a rocky relationship at times (see Galatians 2), Paul recognized Peter, or Cephas as he referred to him, as one of the pillars of the church, entrusted with taking the gospel to the Jews. In addition, two New Testament epistles are attributed to Peter. In the centuries following his death, it was Peter, not Paul, who was considered Rome’s first bishop and founding pope.

But what was most fascinating to me as I took a closer look at the Peter stories in the Gospels is that, regardless of the Gospel writer, Peter is nearly always portrayed as a flawed disciple—one who seeks to follow Jesus, yet one who is also confused, afraid, and faltering. So much so that, when his faithfulness mattered most, he denied knowing Jesus.

This stands in contrast to the normal pattern in history where, over time, the less flattering episodes in a beloved figure’s life become minimized or forgotten, and only their more heroic acts remembered. The Gospels, all written after the death of Peter, do just the opposite. They each paint him as a flawed follower of Jesus. Why would they do this with the memory of one of their beloved leaders?

I believe the Gospel writers were comfortable telling these stories because Peter himself told these stories again and again across the last thirty years of his life. I suspect Peter highlighted his own failings, using his shortcomings to connect with the common struggles and failings of ordinary followers of Jesus.

My congregation tells me that the most helpful personal stories I share with them are those where I’ve failed or missed the point. These are the stories my parishioners remember and connect with. In the same way, the stories of Peter’s shortcomings serve to humanize Peter, allowing ordinary Christians to identify with him. And in the end, these stories always help to amplify or in some way clarify the identity, power, or mercy of Christ.

While Simon Peter’s shortcomings are clearly on display in the Gospels, so also are his courage, his determination, his longing to follow Jesus even if it costs him his life. The early church knew how his story ended after his dramatic denial of Jesus on the night Jesus was arrested. Following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, Peter would, in fact, become the rock upon which the church was built. He would carry his cross to follow Jesus. He would lay down his life for the gospel. While in Peter’s flaws Christians might see themselves, they might also see themselves in the moments of Peter’s courage and faithfulness, and ultimately they might see in him a picture of what they might aspire to be when empowered and led by the Spirit.

 
 

 Loaves and Fishes

by Nikki Smith

Editor: For the past five years, the author has been a member of and ultimately chairperson of the Society of St. Ministry. With the Smith family leaving Las Vegas for Mesa, AZ in June 2019, Trinity will lose one of the hardest working persons in so many areas on campus. We will miss the Smith family and wish them well.

As the facilitator of the food ministry at the Society of St. Stephen (SOSS), a ministry of Trinity United Methodist Church in Las Vegas, I have often wondered about the biblical story of feeding 5,000. Not that I have ever doubted God’s ability to provide, but I have often thought that God often uses people who faithfully serve to partake in the miracle moments.
 
As I have read the feeding scriptures in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, I often thought how God was at work within those who were present to allow everyone to be fed, when there appeared to be such limited resources. This was my question, until one day, I was blessed to have a small glimpse into how God both provides abundance, while also using common people as a blessing to their community.
 
Every Thursday, the SOSS provides a food ministry for those who are in need within the Las Vegas community. The food program is open to all who would come to receive assistance, which is usually about 150 families. The Food Rescue program is a partnership between SOSS and Three Square (food pantry) that recovers perishable food from grocery stores which is then sorted and distributed on a first-come first-serve basis.
 
Each week, Three Square delivers between 1,000 and 3,000 pounds of food which is typically enough to serve the 150 families seeking assistance On this particular Thursday, my greatest fears were realized. There were over 200 families to be served and we only received 1,000 pounds of food! I was afraid that we would have to turn people away hungry and without food for their families. As a person who is so deeply passionate about serving everyone, my heart began to break at the idea that we would not be able to help everyone. I had no  idea what to do.
 
It was about the time that the food was sorted that one of the regular guests, a homeless man, noticed that the amount of food that was delivered was very little. He took it upon himself to spread the word about the shortage to the other homeless people who were waiting in line and what happened next was an answer to my long awaited question about the feeding of the 5,000.
 
In a tremendous act of faith, the homeless people in line collectively made the decision to wait until last to be served! Their justification for doing this was to allow those with families to be served first so that more of the food would be distributed to them first. I was shocked and amazed by what was happening. As people went through the line, no one took more than they needed, and in the end everyone, including the homeless, were served.
 
In this instance, I realized just how wonderful the grace of God is applied in our lives. In a time of scarcity, the community came together to help and serve one another. Not only was everyone “fed” physical food on that day, but I believe that we all were given a healthy dose of God’s Holy Spirit. Perhaps, this is how so many were fed in the biblical story.
 
Rather than being a message of God’s provision of food, we are given a glimpse of God’s provision of Spirit, which swept across the community of those gathered to be filled so that all were satisfied, even to the point that there was some left over. I am thankful that I was blessed to experience such an event, and to receive a much deeper understanding of God’s grace and provision. It is because of this event that I can now truly understand what is written in the scriptures where it says, “Man does not survive on bread alone.”
 
To God be the glory!

Before I die, I want to _____: A Lenten reflection

A UMC.org Feature by Joe Iovino*
 
One day, not far from her home in New Orleans, artist Candy Chang noticed a large abandoned building. “I thought about how I could make this a nicer space for my neighborhood,” she said during her TED Talk, “and I also thought about something that changed my life forever. In 2009, I lost someone I loved very much… Her death was sudden and unexpected. And I thought about death a lot, and this made me feel deep gratitude for the time I’ve had and brought clarity to the things that are meaningful to my life now. But I struggle to maintain this perspective in my daily life. I feel like it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget what really matters to you.” 

 

 

 

A Before I die wall in Hillcrest, San Diego, California  

 

 

 

Candy Chang’s “Before I die…” wall turned an eyesore into art. Photo by Tony Webster [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

With permission from the town and her neighbors, Chang turned the eyesore into a work of art. She covered one side of the house with chalkboard paint. Then, she stenciled a few words on the wall approximately 80 times. The stencil read, “Before I die I want to _____________________.” She put a bucket of chalk near the wall. Before the wall was finished people were stopping by, asking if they could write on it. She reported on the TED Radio Hour that one of the first people to finish the sentence was dressed as a pirate, as people in New Orleans are wont to do. He finished the sentence, “Before I die I want to be tried for piracy.” In her TED Talk, she reads some other things people wrote on the wall.

  • Before I die, I want to straddle the International Date Line.
  • Before I die, I want to sing for millions.
  • Before I die, I want to plant a tree.
  • Before I die, I want to hold her one more time.
  • Before I die, I want to be completely myself.

After playing that clip from her TED Talk, host of the TED Radio Hour Guy Raz, explained, “The power of the ‘Before I die…’ wall is that it actually didn’t make people think about death so much as it made them think about life.” When Chang posted a few photos of the wall online, she was surprised how quickly the idea spread. “My inbox blew up with messages from people around the world who wanted to make a wall with their community.” Today there are more than 1,000 “Before I die…” walls in cities all over the world. Asked about their death, people talked about life, real life, exciting things they would like to do with their lives. People focused on things of life that really matter. In the interview Raz asks Chang what she has learned about death. “I think that contemplating it can lead to a lot of great things,” she says. What a great image for reflection during Lent. Contemplating death can lead to a lot of great things. Jesus taught this to his disciples as he contemplated his own death. Preparing his disciples for his glorification, Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24 CEB). Life, real life, abundant life, comes when we are willing to die to self.

Answers from the Before I die wall in Hillcrest, San Diego, California.  

 

 

 

The power of the “Before I die” wall is that it makes people think about life. Photo by Tony Webster [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Later in her interview with Guy Raz, Candy Chang expounds on the thought. “Contemplating death really clarifies my life and regularly contemplating death,” she continues, “has been a really powerful tool for me to restore perspective and remember the things that make my life meaningful to me.” In a lot of ways, that is exactly what this season of Lent is all about. A time to restore perspective and remember the things that make life meaningful. And so we fast. We give up chocolate or Starbucks or soda, not just to do it. Not to prove anything to anyone or to impress God. We give it up to remind ourselves that those things don’t really matter. Our life in Christ does. We worship on Ash Wednesday reflecting on our sin, asking forgiveness, and seeking to live a new life free from it. We don’t do this for a front row ticket to heaven, but because we know we have short-changed life by living our own way rather than God’s. We receive ashes on the first day of Lent with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We remember our mortality, not to be morbid, but to remember to live for God now, because our life is a precious gift that we should live to the full. Like Candy Chang, we struggle in daily life to maintain a perspective on what gives our lives meaning. “It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget what really matters to you.” Lent invites us to remember what gives our lives life. During these 40 days, how will you restore perspective and remember the gifts you’ve received from the Lord Jesus Christ that make life full and meaningful? Then maybe you’ll be ready to truly live. Before I die, I want to _______. Think about it. *Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733. This story was first published on February 10, 2016.