As part of my theology classes, we have a seminar on the character called ‘Peter in the gospels’. I happened to read a little bit and found Peter as an interesting character in the Mark’s gospel. Why so?
As an introduction, Mark’s gospel is believed to be the first written gospel and Peter is definitely a main character in the gospel. He speaks a lot in the gospel, many a times as a representative for the twelve. Mark is considered to a disciple or friend of Peter. Now let’s see some of the mention of Peter in the gospel. (I am not mentioning all of 26 instances)
- In the first chapter, Simon and Andrew are called by Jesus with a promise to make them fishers of men (and they follow).
- Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law.
- Simon’s name is mentioned first in the list of the twelve disciple; here Jesus gives the name Peter.
- Peter is there in three special occasions (raising of Jairus’ daughter, the transfiguration and in the agony). In the transfiguration, Peter (along with others) are confused and he makes a confused request to build tents. Even in the agony, the chosen 3 are sleeping. But Jesus scolds Peter (I don’t know why it is so explicit in Marks’s gospel)
- Peter makes the profession “You are the Messiah.” But Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. (Jesus’ response is such cold unlike in Mathew, where he says “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it….”)
- In the next paragraph, Peter is rebuked very harshly saying, “Get behind me Satan”
- Peter denies Jesus three times. When he realises it, he cries bitterly.
- Probably like a silver lining after all those unpleasant instances, the resurrection narrative mentions explicitly the name of Peter, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
Based on these readings, what was the role of Peter in Mark’s gospel? Is he a hero? By no chance.
I would like to mention two other significant aspects, which are not in Mark’s gospel
- Peter’s preaching from Pentecost till his death. (death as a martyr giving an amazing witness)
- There is another tradition which I quote here (I am not saying it is proved as true or false…) One early Christian text, the Apocryphal Acts of Peter, recounts many things that Peter did in the city. At one point in Acts of Peter, Peter is taunted by a flamboyant heretic, Simon Magus. Simon challenges Peter to a flying contest around the Roman Forum, but Peter’s prayers make Simon crash to the ground, proving that Simon’s powers are not as great as his own. At the end of this text, Peter, not wishing to be martyred for his faith, flees from Roman authorities on the Via Appia leading out of the city. Rather unexpectedly, Peter meets Jesus, who is traveling in the opposite direction. He asks Jesus, “Where are you going?” Jesus tells Peter that he is going to Rome “to be crucified again.” Peter realizes, from this, that he cannot flee from his fate. “Where are you going?” in Latin is “Quo Vadis?” and there’s a medieval church in Rome called the Church of Quo Vadis at the spot where Peter met Jesus.
Yes, the first-called, representative-disciple has many ups and downs (the figure of Jesus in Mathew or Luke is much more positive). A journey with Jesus is difficult and it is possible that we fall many a times. Hopefully we can get up again and again like Peter (to cry bitterly for our errors) and continue to walk towards Jesus. When Pope Francis as the successor of Peter preaches about MERCY again and again, I think he is also inviting us to that experience of Mercy, which Peter has experienced very many times.