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The Life of Jesus Christ and the Art He Inspired: Calling Simon Peter
Song - "Simon Peter" by the Ramada Singers
Chapter Twelve: Hearing the Call of the Lord
Jesus Christ came to earth, the embodiment of God in a human body. Israel had been waiting for Him for centuries. Prayers for His arrival were fervently breathed by the most devout and learned men in His society. So, to whom did He appear, asking for support? The High Priest? Scribes and devoted followers from the tribe of Levi? No. He came to fishermen. He came to the lowly and the poorly educated, those most downtrodden and least expected to act as religious leaders in Jewish society. What did it mean for these ordinary peasants to encounter the Logos who created the universe? How did their encounter with Him alter their destinies?
Pulpit in St Andrews' Church in Antwerp by Jan-Baptist van Hool and Jan-Frans van Geel
The Calling of St. Peter and St. Andrew by James Tissot
Matthew 4:18 - 22
18 As Jesus walked along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw two brothers who were fishermen, Simon (called Peter) and his brother Andrew, catching fish in the lake with a net. 19 Jesus said to them, “Come with me, and I will teach you to catch people.” 20 At once they left their nets and went with him.
21 He went on and saw two other brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in their boat with their father Zebedee, getting their nets ready. Jesus called them, 22 and at once they left the boat and their father, and went with him.
Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew by Lorenzo Venziano
The Calling of Peter and Andrew by Duccio
Meditation: The Price of Discipleship
Jesus certainly knew the way to a fisherman's heart. In order to grab the attention of Simon Peter, He shakes him up right where he lives - by giving him a miraculous draught of fishes. Jesus' method of recruiting seems to have been to meet His new disciples on their terms rather than His own. Maybe that's because He knew both the glory and the suffering to which He was calling these humble peasants, who asked for nothing more out of life than to feed their families and worship in the way of their forefathers.
Petri Fischzug by Raphael
Peter looks overwhelmed with joy and gratitude in this painting by Raphael. If this bounteous catch is what discipleship means, he's all about it! Very shortly afterward, Jesus gives him yet another reason to be ecstatic about discipleship; He heals Peter's ailing mother-in-law, who practically leaps from her deathbed to cook everybody a nice hearty dinner. (I bet it was fresh-caught fish.)
St Peter by Masaccio
Simon Peter always did wear his heart on his sleeve. Brash, impetuous, quite likely at any time to stick his foot firmly in his mouth, he is the disciple whose personality is most completely explored in the Gospels. Peter is the disciple who babbles about making tents for Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration, and he's the one who ends up fearfully denying his connection with Christ three times to escape sharing His matyrdom. He's almost endearingly flawed, a sort of Everyman apostle who convinces us mere mortals that even we, as messed up as we may be, might be called upon by God in His mercy to be of service. But oh, the ultimate price of that service for Saint Peter!
Martyrdom of St. Peter
Peter might have been afraid to stand with Jesus when Jesus was crucified, but he did not fail Him after the resurrection. The Emperor Nero was blamed (correctly or not) for a devastating fire that destroyed most of Rome in 64 CE. In order to deflect the blame, he pointed his finger at the Christians. The Roman historian Tacitas writes:
""Therefore, to stop the rumor, he falsely charged with guilt, and punished with the most fearful tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities... Accordingly first those were arrested who confessed they were Christians; next on their information, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of "hating the human race."
One of the victims of that onslaught was Saint Peter, pictured above. He died in one of Nero's circuses. Tradition has it that when he found out the method of his execution, Peter asked to be crucified head - down because he did not feel he deserved to have the same death as Jesus Christ. This was the price of discipleship: a journey from the Sea of Galilee to the circuses of Rome, and it all began with a really good catch of fish.
As we pause to reflect on the life of Saint Peter, let us remember that the faith for which he died is now one of the most influential movements in the history of the world. Let those of us who now worship the Lord in peace give thanks to Peter, to Paul and to all the other early martyrs who refused to be cowed by the Roman oppressors and assured that the world remembered the life, ministry and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Previous chapter in this series
- The Life of Jesus Christ and the Art He Inspired: The Wedding at Cana
Jesus' first miracle takes place in Cana. He changes water into wine. What is the significance of this act, other than to keep somebody from having a terrible party?