Wednesday, January 29, 2003

The Choosing and Training of the Twelve -- The Final Call of Peter

This is part 3 of a series covering the choosing and training of the 12 disciples. To get to the beginning, click here.

As mentioned yesterday, Jesus commanded Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him. Matthew tells us that they left their nets and went with Him on a tour of Galilee.

However, at some point during this tour, Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John left Jesus and returned to their fishing. This may seem surprising, but a close comparison of Matthew and Mark against Luke shows that two superficially identical stories are most definitely separate events. John recorded the first meeting between Jesus and these men, Matthew and Mark recorded a second, and Luke recorded a third, different, and final call. We must conclude that Peter and his friends left Jesus during the first Galilean tour.

Here is Luke’s account of the third meeting:

Now Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing around him to hear the word of God. He saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing! But at your word I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets started to tear. So they motioned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they were about to sink.

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For Peter and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s business partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” So when they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:1-11, The Net Bible)

The following table records the unique differences between Luke’s story and Matthew and Mark’s story.

Matthew and Mark

Luke

Peter’s activity.

Casting a net into the sea. (Matthew 4:18)

Washing his nets. (Luke 5:2)

The Galilean tour took place before or after.

After (Matthew 4:23)

Before (Luke 4:14, 15)

Peter’s mother-in-law healed before or after.

After (Mark 1:30)

Before (Luke 4:38)

The size of the crowd

No crowd

A large and pressing crowd. (Luke 5:1, 3)

What Peter, Andrew, James, and John left behind.

Their nets and boat (Matthew 4:20,22)

Everything (Luke 5:11)

So this is a third encounter, which means that Peter and the others had followed Jesus for a while and, at some point, returned again. Why they may have done this is a matter of speculation. Had Peter got word that his mother-in-law was sick? Did the fishing business need tending? Was Peter unsure about Jesus, the ministry, and the place he had in it? Peter’s response to the catch of fish contains a clue:

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees , saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)

Peter was undone. He had seen Jesus turn water into wine. He had heard Him teach and heal and cast out demons. He understood that the power and wisdom of God resided in Him. The power that Jesus demonstrated and the righteousness of His life threatened Peter. On the two previous excursions, Peter got relief by leaving. Here in the boat, Peter sought relief by asking Jesus to leave, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Peter felt unworthy before the Messiah. Being around Him was a constant reminder of sin and imperfection. On the one hand, Peter loved what he saw, but on the other it ate him up from the inside.

So Jesus addressed Peter’s heart, “Do not fear…” With these words Jesus communicated His love and mercy and lifted the specter of judgment that had perhaps fallen on Peter. Jesus said, "from now on you will be catching men." Peter, his bother, and his two friends then left everything for good and followed Jesus.

What this pieced together story tells us is that hiding behind every terse story of Jesus’ call was a string of encounters by which the person perceived the value of knowing and following Jesus. The gospels have a portrait of Jesus to convey. Details about His followers would get in the way and they are not offered. Only the 3-fold account that we have between John, Matthew/Mark, and Luke give us a richer story in Peter’s case. This also tells us that our call to follow Jesus is also a process of getting to know Him, perceiving His value, and coming to a place where we can leave everything and follow Him.

Tomorrow: The Call of Matthew

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