Simon Peter – an Obituary

Simon Peter’s early days were spent in the lakeside towns of Bethsaida and Capernaum and it was from here that he became a partner in the family fishing business working alongside his brother Andrew.

Peter moved away from Capernaum when he joined up with the itinerant preacher, Jesus, and spent the next three years as part of the group that travelled with him. Periodically he returned with Jesus to this area along the coast of Lake Galilee. During those three years Peter was a major player among his fellow disciples, often outspoken and rarely left out of any activity. He was one of the few that saw the miraculous return to life of the synagogue ruler’s daughter and he was on the mountain top for the mysterious occurrence that became known as ‘The Transfiguration.’

Like all the disciples he witnessed the healing and teaching nature of Jesus’ work and he was one of the party of disciples that went out in pairs to learn to live as Jesus did, in faith with minimum provisions, teaching and healing wherever they were welcomed. He was to repeat this style of work much later in the early days of the Christian community he helped to lead.

Peter was unafraid to make a bold statement or to voice the feelings of the group. It was Peter who first named Jesus as the long awaited Messiah and Peter who stepped out of the boat to meet the man he called ‘Lord’ on the water. If he was unafraid with his claims, he was also unafraid with his questions, querying the meaning of following Jesus and asking about the destruction of the Temple of which Jesus spoke. But his outspoken words were sometimes misplaced or even wrong. He found it difficult to comprehend that the Lord he followed would face suffering and he tried to stop Jesus talking about hardship and death. Later he was himself flogged and imprisoned for his faith and at the end of his life wrote: “My dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful test you are suffering, as though something unusual were happening to you. rather be glad that you are sharing in Christ’s sufferings, so that you may be full of joy when his glory is revealed.” The suffering which had been beyond his comprehension was now part of the understanding of his faith.

it is this growth of faith and character that is perhaps the most impressive quality of his life. Life for him was not easy and he made mistakes. Overconfidently he promised never to desert Jesus but found on the night of Jesus’ trial he was unable to keep that promise. It was a failure that he felt bitterly, but having been welcomed back by Jesus following his resurrection and with new power from the Holy Spirit, Peter went forward with renewed confidence to proclaim faith in his Lord, with boldness.

In the heady days of the early church Peter took major responsibility for the people he felt were entrusted to him. He was unafraid to learn from new circumstances and experiences and he led the ratification of the acceptance of non-Jews as full members of the church. He travelled widely but spent the end of his life in Rome probably at the start of the fierce persecution of Christians under Emperor Nero. His writings have many allusions to expected suffering as he tried to prepare the church for the horror of the years ahead. While it may seem ironic that he refers to Paul’s letters as difficult to understand when his own are far from clear, he did include vivid word pictures of what a growing community of Christians would look like—living stones, royal priesthood, spiritual house—images that have captivated followers of Jesus ever since.

At his death Simon Peter left behind two letters; a church, shaped in part by him, which stuck mainly to its ‘living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead;’ and a wealth of stories of his own growing faith.

Written by Catherine Hammond and used during the morning service 1 March 2009

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