Peter, the Impetuous
Among the disciples who were with Jesus during the three memorable years of his ministry, Peter seemed continually to be battling against certain unfortunate peculiarities of character, which ever appeared to stand in the way of his progress. For Peter, humanly speaking, was one of those who seemed to possess what the world terms a natural proclivity for making mistakes. He might be called "Peter, the impetuous," acting upon impulse, jumping at conclusions, always trying to take advanced positions beyond his power to maintain. This may well apply to some of those later followers of the Christ, who express today that same zeal without wisdom which seemed to characterize Peter.
If any such who read this may still, perhaps, be smarting under the memory of an impulsive step unwisely taken, and quickly seen to be wrong, let them find comfort in remembering how Jesus loved this erratic student, Peter. For Jesus, with his rare spiritual discernment, perceived, as perhaps others did not, that in this many-sided character, at times so trying, there lay beneath the surface an element of unshaken and glorious stability.
For Peter was teachable. The moment his mistakes were evident to him he began with equal impetuosity to do what he could to correct them. When at the last supper our Master gave that final proof of his love and humility by washing the disciples' feet, we gather that all accepted this but Peter, who with vehemence protested, "Thou shalt never wash my feet." With the exquisite patience which ever characterized him, Jesus explained, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." And then how instantly Peter changed his former attitude! He wanted not only his feet washed, but his hands and his head also. Is it any wonder that Jesus loved him? Who could help loving anyone who so quickly acknowledged his mistake, and tried to make immediate amends for it! The mental pendulum may sometimes, as in this case, swing too far in the opposite direction, but at least this indicates a willingness to concede that one has been wrong.
Unfortunately, some Peters of today may not always express in so marked a degree their readiness to do this, They have been known at times to take a position, in some church matter, for example, to which they clung at all costs, even though it was proved later on that the position was wrong. The argument perhaps comes to them that since they have "taken a stand" for something, they must hold to it, right or wrong. This sometimes creates very trying situations for other workers, who may not always possess that sublime patience which characterized Jesus. If there be any such, it may help them to realize that it was not for Peter's mistakes that Jesus loved him, but for his readiness to acknowledge them, and for the real teachableness and humility which enabled him to say in his heart those three words, which sometimes seems to us the hardest to say of any in the world, those three little words, "I was wrong."
Peter's mental processes were always quick, and instantly accompanied by action. When Jesus bade him come to him, walking on the waves, he unhesitatingly stepped out upon the water. It is true that he became afraid. but it is also true that he walked a few steps, accepted the rebuke of his fear, and, supported by the Master, returned to the ship. And that is more than could be said of the other disciples. Then again, on that morning when the disheartened disciples had been fishing without success, and a voice called out to them from the shore, "Children, have ye any meat?" it was John who was first to recognize Jesus, but it was Peter who "girt his fisher's coat unto him,... and did cast himself into the sea." Although on a previous occasion he denied his Lord in an hour of fear and stress, we have the record of his immediate contrition. The other disciples may not have realized until later the enormity of their desertion at the crucial moment, when their Master needed them the most, but Jesus had only to turn and look upon Peter to send him from the judgment hall weeping bitterly.
If anyone had told him just then that he would some day walk into a darkened "upper chamber" and raise the dead, he might not have believed it possible. If anyone had told him that from the beloved Master, whom he had deserted, he would in a comparatively short time receive that sacred charge, "Feed my sheep," he might have said that such forgiveness was beyond the human mind to comprehend; and so it was! But with his spiritual discernment Jesus must have known that in spite of Peter's many mistakes he was prepared to carry on, in steadfast loyalty, the teachings of those memorable three years. In that bitter hour of shame and humiliation the remembrance may have come to Peter that Jesus had also once said to him, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."
What a ray of light that assurance must have been to rift the darkness of his sorrow and self-condemnation! Jesus had told him to strengthen the brethren. He who had seemed to have no strength at all, no stability, no moral courage, on occasions when those qualities were most needed, was to strengthen others! Spiritual discernment such as his was the "rock" upon which Christianity should stand. His Master trusted him!
That he was worthy of that trust is evident, because it was to this same Peter, the impetuous, that a sorrowing little group of people turned in time of need. In Joppa, long afterward, a certain woman named Tabitha had passed on, and her friends sent for Peter. He found them gathered in an upper chamber, where she was laid, and upon his arrival they tearfully showed him the "coats and garments" which she had made, and told him of her "good works and almsdeeds which she did." A good woman, Tabitha! But human goodness was not enough to save her from submitting to "the last enemy." It is the understanding of Life, Truth, and Love which does that; and nothing else can. So he "put them all forth," with their lamentations, which perhaps included the plaint that one so good and pious as Tabitha should not have died. And when they had all departed, Peter proceeded to prove not only that she should not have died, but that, in reality, she was not dead. He "kneeled down, and prayed." And Peter had been with Jesus: he knew how to pray. "And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up."
Is some Peter of today perhaps clinging to the memory of a past mistake? Then let him remember that our beloved Leader, Mary Baker Eddy, has written (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 324), "Gladness to leave the false landmarks and joy to see them disappear,—this disposition helps to precipitate the ultimate harmony." A mistake is always a false landmark. It points to a false sense of man, to something which, in divine reality, is unknown. If one is thoroughly repentant, and has made every possible amends, is he to gaze sorrowfully at the false landmark throughout his entire earthly experience? That is surely not God's way. God's law demands a turning away from anything which has ever indicated a false sense of existence, instead of a rueful, useless, seemingly endless contemplation of it, thereby perpetuating its claim to have life and reality, prolonging its claim to have power to make one miserable.
Christian Science does not admit the possibility of two kinds of man, one perfect, and the other imperfect. That is the false theology which ultimates in long faces, in burdened hearts, in slow and heavy footsteps. Let us know that no malicious effort of the carnal mind, so called, has power to rob us of our joy in Christ. Was there once a fiery furnace? We are out of it. Was there once a long stretch of desert sand? We have come through the experience. Then why go back and live it over again? "God requireth that which is past." Cease looking upon a world in which imperfection has any place, or ever had any place, or can ever have any place! Mrs. Eddy has said (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 130), "Where the motive to do right exists, and the majority of one's acts are right, we should avoid referring to past mistakes." Why not leave the false landmarks now, today? What a relief it will be to see the last of those useless, tormenting, haunting memories of what the world calls "the past," and to walk straight out of the shadow into God's glorious day, to experience the peace which attends the understanding of a Life which knows no "past," a "Life that maketh all things new"!
The Peter who left that humble dwelling of long ago, where the ever-presence of the Christ had been made appreciable to humanity, was not Peter the impetuous, but Peter the humble, the chastened, the purified. Nor can we believe that he was thinking merely of the happy household he had just left, nor of Tabitha. Surely, as he went quietly on his homeward way, there was a joy shining on that rugged face which made it beautiful, and something like this was singing itself over and over in his heart: "He trusted me. The Master trusted me. He knew I would not fail him!"
Copyright, 1938, by The Christian Science Publishing Society. One, Norway Street, Boston, Massachusetts. Entered at Boston post office as second-class matter. Acceptance for mailing at a special rate of postage provided for in section 1103, Act of October 3, 1917, authorized on July 11, 1918.