Peter, the son of Jonah (or John), was born in Bethsaida, near Lake Tiberias, his parents named him Simon or Simeon. He and his brother Andrew lived in Capernaum where they earned their living as ordinary fishermen. Andrew introduced Peter to Jesus and it changed everything. Peter was captivated by Jesus – by what he said, by his personality, by everything about him. As a result he changed from being a fisherman to a follower of Jesus.
The Gospel of Luke recounts the story that Peter caught such a large amount of fish that he fell down before the feet of Jesus and was told by the Lord, ‘Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men’. Jesus also gave Simon a new name: Cephas, or the rock (Peter being the Greek translation of Cephas). Becoming a disciple of Jesus, Peter acknowledged him as ‘… the Messiah, the son of the living God’. Jesus responded by saying: ‘… you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church….’.
Peter is listed as the first of the Apostles in all of the New Testament accounts and was a member of the inner circle of Jesus, with James and John. He is recorded more than any other disciple, and was at Jesus’ side at the Transfiguration, the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and the agony of the Garden of Gethsemane. He helped organise the Last Supper and played a major role in the events of the Passion. When Jesus was arrested it was Peter who cut off the right ear of a slave of Malcus the high priest then denied Jesus three times as Jesus had predicted. Peter then ‘went out and began to weep bitterly’.
After the Resurrection, Peter went to the tomb with the ‘other disciple’ after being told of the event by the women. Peter saw the first appearance of the risen Christ and when Jesus appeared before the disciples at Tiberias, he gave Peter the famous command to ‘Feed my lambs…. Tend my sheep…. Feed my sheep’.
Peter was instrumental in bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles (although his ministry was primarily to the Jews). He baptised the Roman pagan Cornelius, and at the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem he gave his support to preaching to Gentiles, thereby permitting the new Church to become universal.
Imprisoned by King Herod Agrippa (not to be confused with Herod the Great who was king when Jesus was born, or Herod Antipas who reigned at the time of Jesus’ ministry), he was helped in an escape by an angel. He then resumed his apostolate in Jerusalem and his missionary efforts included travels to various cities of the pagan world such as Antioch, Corinth, and eventually Rome. Peter died in Rome, probably in 64 AD, as a martyr during the reign of Emperor Nero. According to tradition, Peter was crucified upside down as he protested that he was unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.
Lord, help us to be more passionate in our relationship with you and more courageous for you, knowing that as and when we fail there is always your everlasting love, forgiveness and reinstatement. Amen