We often view Peter as the bold and brash one who went around sticking his foot in his mouth. Sure he cut off Malchus’ ear, walked out on the water with Jesus but began to sink, and offered to build booths for Jesus, Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration. I wonder if he doesn’t deserve a little more credit. When many of the stories, that have shaped the view Simon was brash and bumbling, are looked at with a little more detail there is a lot to give Peter credit for.
Cutting off Malchus’ ear
Probably not the best and brightest idea to pull out a sword in the middle of an angry mob who is trying to arrest you. But remember back to the conversation he had just had with Jesus prior to going to the garden where Jesus was arrested.
“Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
” ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.
Peter said he would die with Jesus. We often look to the rooster crowing and say Peter betrayed Jesus in a way worse than the 10 (not counting Judas of course) because they just ran off. Of course he denied Jesus and lied about his status as his disciple three times. But Peter also said he would die with Jesus. In Matthew 26 we have evidence that he was serious. What else could Peter expect to result from drawing a sword in that crowd but his own death in defense of Jesus. This is speculation but who knows maybe he figured his own death would prevent him from denying Jesus. Maybe Peter was trying harder than we think.
Walking on the Water
In Matthew 14 we find the story of Jesus walking on the water and Peter’s attempt to join him. Notice that Peter has more boldness and possibly even initial faith than the others in the boat. Who else is asking to walk out there with Jesus? What is more when we think about this story the biggest things we would see as terrifying would be the wind, waves and fact you are actually standing on water! That might not be the biggest fear in their culture. The sea was seen as a place of chaos where the primeval forces of darkness and evil spirits lived (much like the wilderness and desert). By stepping out on the water Peter was taking a risk bigger than we understand. For that I give him credit. No wonder his faith shrank back when he walked on the water because he knew whose territory he was treading on (in their minds, Satan’s).
Peter Offers to Build Shelters for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah
This is one of those “classic Peter blunders” that is found in Mark 9. Peter, James and John find themselves on the mountain with Jesus when all of a sudden something remarkable happens. They see Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah! These were their heroes. They had heard stories about these men all their lives. How they knew it was Moses and Elijah is uncertain. Did they have “Hello my name is:” name tags on? Maybe they knew from the Jerusalem Press comic books they colored in when they were children. Who knows but that is who they stood before. They hear God’s voice speak. Peter pipes up with an offer to build booths for the three. What Peter said may be more insightful than we give credit for. Mark tells us he didn’t know what to say and so we typically think he stuck his foot in his mouth. In Mark’s account this follows Peter’s great confession of Jesus as the Christ/Messiah in chapter 8. Why is that important? Because the booths Peter offers to build points to the feast of tabernacles. This feast pointed back to celebrate their time in the wilderness wanderings where the people lived with God. It also pointed forward to another day when God would live with his people and an expectation of the coming of the Messiah. Peter’s offer of booths was in recognition that God was finally dwelling with his people. Not such a dumb statement after all.
Maybe we need to cut Simon Peter a little more slack.