There are so many people I gravitate to in the stories of Scripture. Abraham, Hagar, Abigail, Deborah, Ruth, Rahab, David, Lydia, and John.
And Peter. I have always loved him. I have heard so many jokes at his expense over the years—“Saint Peter was at the Pearly Gates” kind of jokes. Many descriptions and labels have been attached to this fisherman. I used to lovingly, but apologetically refer to him as the bumbling buffoon. He was always the one of Jesus’ crew who constantly stumbled over his own feet, or his foot managed to routinely be in his oversized mouth.
But my perspective and thoughts concerning Peter have changed.
I watch him through the lens of the Gospels, and hear his voice in his letters and I am taken with this man. I resonate with Peter.
The situation that has most confounded me about Peter is his last meal with Jesus. In the crowded upper room Peter behaves in a way I never quite understood. I did not know whether to laugh or to shake him.
Jesus decides to do what everyone else neglected or avoided doing: the menial task of washing the guests’ feet. He wrapped a towel around his body, got a basin of water and started at the end of the table. He bent to wash the grime and filth of the Jerusalem streets from his followers’ feet. I wonder how many times he had to empty the basin and get clean water.
Peter knows Jesus is coming, and he watches Jesus closely. But the whole time Peter is having a heated argument inside his head. He cannot decide if he needs to get up and help. Maybe he should wash his own feet. Maybe he should start at the other side of the room. Then it is Peter’s turn. Jesus bends to the floor and glances upward to Peter’s face. Jesus expected Peter’s reaction; he knew Peter’s wiring. Jesus was very aware that what he was about to do would be appalling to Peter’s sensitive ego and propriety.
And it is here, in this moment, I always became puzzled. Peter, in all of his zeal and passion, cries out and refuses to allow Jesus to wash his calloused feet. You can hear the tone of Peter’s voice. In John’s gospel it comes through in stereo. There is intensity in Peter’s exclamation. I used to believe it was simply because he didn’t want Jesus doing the task of a slave—the lowest slave in the household paradigm.
I am not sure that was all that was going through Peter’s mind. Peter seems like a simple, plain fisherman. A concrete kind of man. Many have interpreted him to be the most forward, but perhaps, one of the most simple of Jesus’ apostles. I think this is an unfair and inaccurate assessment of Peter.
Peter believed in independence and self-sufficiency. When a job needed to be done, Peter did not ask Andrew or John to do it. He did the task. And every task he applied himself to he gave 110%. Follow him through Scripture and you will find this to be true. Peter did not care to ask for anything, and I think it was quite hard for him to accept help when offered. Peter gave. If your fishing boat had a leak, Peter would be the first one there with tools and a pitch bucket. But when Peter’s boat had a leak, he went to the shore alone.
This characteristic of Peter’s is vividly portrayed as we watch Jesus wash Peter’s feet. If Peter had been asked to wash Jesus’ feet he would have heated the water and most likely massaged them in the process. But the tables (or the feet) were turned.
There was a lesson in this symbolic gesture of Jesus’ for everyone in the room. Each person had something to process and learn. In that moment of truth when Jesus knelt to wash their feet—they saw themselves. Jesus’ actions revealed the hidden, inner places (at the moment) that were most out of line. And Peter saw.
No, Lord, you will not wash my feet. You can’t stoop down and help me. I can wash my own feet. I should have remembered. I should be doing this task, not you. You are our Rabbi. Our Master. I should have had the foresight to provide someone to do this menial thing…or done it myself.
Then you cannot have any part of me, Peter. If you will not allow me to minister to you, if you will not allow me to wash away the daily grime, the accumulated filth of the routine walking then you can not walk with me. If you do not allow me to aid you, to cleanse you, then you can have no part of me.
Then wash my hands and my head, Lord. What a funny turn of dialogue. Peter changes his tune. Can you see him thrust his great work-hardened hands toward Jesus? Watch as he bends his head toward the basin in Jesus’ lap. I think Peter would have probably dunked his own head.
Friends, Peter may have jumped before he looked, spoke before he thought, and acted before he considered, but that’s Peter for you.
Once Peter is shown the errors of his ways, he is quick to repent. He turns so fast that there are times he probably turned 190 degrees just from his exerted energy. He wants so much to get everything right.
Bumbling Buffoon--Part 2--coming soon.