GS Letter September 2018
One of the characters in the Bible I find most fascinating is the Apostle Peter. A significant episode concerning Peter is seen in his famous confession of Jesus as the Messiah (Mark 8:27-33). The confession itself, as Jesus puts it, is a special revelation to Peter from the Heavenly Father. But through his confession, Peter appears as the Rock – the foundation upon which Jesus will build His community – and as the person who will eventually act as the establisher of the community.
However, immediately after the enthralling compliments, Peter took Jesus aside and blurted out his objections to Jesus’ prediction of His death. What happened afterwards was almost unthinkable. Jesus rebuked Peter harshly and even called him as if he is “satan”. This is one of the harshest words ever recorded as spoken from our Lord.
What does this signify? David Gill suggests one interesting explanation. He believes that one’s strengths could be closely related to his or her prominent weaknesses as well. Gill shows some vivid examples that deserve a full quote here: “The psychologist or therapist is sometimes deeply troubled and suicidal. The intellectually brilliant sometimes displays astonishing stupidity. The forceful apologist may wrestle with deep personal doubt.”
Some people think that Mark’s motives are polemical. Mark uses those failures to warn a faction in Markan’s communities then of what would happen if the comprehension of Christ was inaccurate as shown in the life of Peter. The other group understands that Mark’s intent is more pastoral. By showing the dullness of Peter, Marks wants to emphasize the authenticity of discipleship and provide real examples for the early churches then.
Nevertheless, regardless of what Mark originally intended, I think it is clear that Mark is showing us the process of discipleship. Through the life of Peter, we can testify that discipleship is not a single static point started at the time of Jesus’ calling, but more of a dynamic on-going process. Consequently, if it is a process of transformation, it does not mean instant perfection. Peter fumbled many times. However, one encouraging note is that despite their weaknesses and failures, all the Synoptic Gospels do not end the stories of Peter in a pathetic way. In Mark 16:7 and Luke 24:34, for instance, the angel summoned the women to tell the disciples to go to Galilee because the resurrected Jesus would be there. Take note that Peter, who failed miserably and denied Jesus three times, was specifically mentioned. This message provides hints of forgiveness, hope, and restoration. It is more clearly seen later in the book of Acts when the Spirit used and empowered Peter to preach at Pentecost and resulted in three thousand souls being baptized (Acts 2).
At this juncture, we can summarize that in Peter’s life, though the process of discipleship has a transformed life in mind, it involves a less-than-perfect reality. All these are a far cry from the agenda of our times, in which the outward performance, the pressure-to-always-look-good and be a Christian with a commanding posture, is what we are expected to live up to. Modern Christians are standing on sinking sand if they continue to live in this manner. I plead that we must repent and go back to the biblical process of discipleship.
Along with the above process is how we relate to our students when we nurture and disciple them. We continue to aspire them to be salt and light, but at the same time we will not give up bearing the burden of their idiosyncrasies and failures, echoing what Paul said to the Galatians: “for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you [them]” (Galatians 4:19, NRSV).
Kindly remember us in your prayer as we get real with the process of discipleship among our students!
David W Gill, Peter the Rock: Extraordinary Insight from An Ordinary Man(Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 177.