Peter’s Tumultuous Vocation and Ours
In 1973, the great American philosopher and baseball manager Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘tll it’s over.” He was right. His team, the Mets, rallied and won the pennant. We cannot find the phrase in the Scriptures, but we should not neglect its wisdom. The turbulent life of St. Peter as it unfolds in the gospels illustrates how Jesus directs and sustains us throughout our lives.
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Early in the ministry of Jesus, Peter is awestruck by the miraculous catch of fish: “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’” (Lk. 5:8) In response to Peter’s humility, Jesus reveals Peter’s vocation: “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” (Lk. 5:10) We hear God’s voice when we humbly recognize the holy majesty of Jesus.
Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” Peter bears witness to the divinity of Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt. 16:16) Peter’s testimony is inspired: “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 16:17) Jesus adds to Peter’s job description: “Thou art Peter; and upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16:18) We can accomplish great things for the Lord provided we acknowledge God as the source of all grace and wisdom.
During the Last Supper and Passion of Jesus, we see the false bravado of Peter: “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” (Mt 26:35) Peter soon fulfills the prophecy of Jesus: “Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” (Mt. 26:34) During the Passion, Peter’s crash-and-burn is complete: his cowardly threefold denial; his bitter sorrow; indeed, his self-loathing. Did he squander his vocation with his failure? Do our failures nullify our vocations?
It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.
With the joy of the Resurrection, Peter becomes a new man, renewing his readiness to seek and serve Jesus. He is the first of the Apostles to enter the empty tomb. He is first among the Apostles when the resurrected Jesus commissions them to forgive sins in His name.
The Apostles cluster about Peter as they await the risen Jesus in Galilee. Peter reverts to his seafaring days and goes fishing. (Skills learned early in life often provide us with consolations in times of uncertainty.) Jesus—unrecognized—directs them from the shore: “‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish.” (Jn. 21:6) John exclaims, “It is the Lord!” and Peter immediately “sprang into the sea.” (Jn.21:7-8)
A movie producer may see in this scene a heart-warming finale to the drama of the life of St. Peter—his rise from obscurity, his bravado and failures, and his ultimate restoration in joyous friendship with Jesus. But Jesus interrupts the closing credits and extends the life story because He requires more of Peter. Karl Marx is wrong. Religion is not the opium of the people. God sends consolations to encourage us to work harder. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.
Love cancels sin. After breakfast on the beach, “Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’” (Jn. 21: 15) Jesus repeats the question two more times, gently nudging Peter to atone for his threefold denial. “Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’” (Jn. 21:16-17) In his grief, Peter seems oblivious to another apostolic assignment.
- Peter is a fisherman and the rock on which Jesus would build His Church.
- At the Last Supper, Jesus ordains Peter and the others and directs them to celebrate Mass “in memory” of Him.
- Jesus gives Peter the grace to strengthen his brethren in faith.
- After the Resurrection, Jesus assigns Peter and the other Apostles to forgive sins in His name.
- Peter’s new assignment—motivated by his love of Jesus—is to feed the Christian flock with His truth.
- After a good Confession and restoration in Jesus, we also must be attentive to the new duties God adds to our vocation workload.
God reveals our vocations gradually and lovingly throughout our lives according to our abilities.
- With Peter, despite our sins, we are also fishers of men.
- Jesus builds the Church in our hearts as we respond with faith.
- We celebrate Mass in memory of Him.
- We feed the sheep of His flock by Christian witness.
- With the disciples according to our state of life, we go forth to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt. 28:19)
Nevertheless, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.
Jesus promises the crown jewel of sacrificial love upon Peter: “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.’ (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” (Jn. 21: 18-19) The Romans crucified Peter in 64 AD. We will also share the Cross of Jesus. With Jesus, we will say, “It is finished.” (Jn. 19:30)
Not so fast. We were not born to die but to live forever: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16) It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. Until then, we have much work to accomplish for Jesus and the salvation of souls.
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