7-Crucifixion-of-St-Peter-CaravaggioChalcedon and Malcolm have both written on Pilate, and the former will be writing on the ‘Good Thief’, but I want to take up two contrasting Apostles for my Eastern themes – St. Peter and Judas.I want to say up front that St Peter was the first man who was not my daddy I ever fell in love with, and even all these years later, I have a huge soft spot for him – so what follows isn’t objective.

Peter is just the most amazing man. He doesn’t always think before he speaks, but he’s always first with an opinion, and he’s up front always. What you see is what you get with him. He speaks first, acts second and thinks a long way back. Sometimes he’s brilliantly intuitive. He it is who sees that Jesus is the Christ – then moments later tries to tell Him that He can’t go to the fate that is in store for Him. He has a heart as big as a house, and a brain which gets into gear a little slowly.

At the Last Supper Jesus tells him that Satan will sift Him. Peter, as usual, isn’t paying attention. If he had been then he wouldn’t have told the Lord in Gethsemane that he’d stand by Him and never deny Him. Probably he wouldn’t have cut off the ear of the guard either; but that was Peter, brave, impulsive and charismatic.

Then came a situation he couldn’t deal with. He boldly followed Jesus to His trial. But then, finding himself in danger, he did what most of us would – lied to keep out of danger. We can only imagine how terrible he felt afterwards. Yet again, as at Philippi, he had gone from hero to zero. How easy it would have been for him to have joined Judas Iscariot. But as usual with Peter, he kept going; what an example to the rest of us.

We see his boldness that first Easter Sunday when he goes into the empty tomb first (not that he got there first, John out ran him). He is then forgiven by Christ and told to feed His sheep. This we know he did.

Peter did not change. We can see from Acts and Galatians that when challenged by men from Jerusalem about his dining with Gentiles, he drew back, fearing to create scandal, and that when challenged by Paul, he was willing to accept the decision of the Apostles. None of this was the act of a weak man. A weak man would have insisted he was right and have called on his authority; Peter was willing to listen and to come to a solution which satisfied all.

Both Clement and Irenaeus are clear that Peter died in Rome during the reign of Nero.  Irenaeus and Papias both confirm that mark was the ‘interpreter’ of Peter – that is that, as 1 Peter 5:13 suggests, Mark wrote down Peter’s teaching and, after his death, collected it together in what became the Gospel according to Mark. So when we read St Mark, we read also St Peter.

Tradition has it that he was crucified in Rome by order of the Emperor Nero in October A.D. 64, and that, at his own request, he was crucified upside down. My friend Joseph, The Lonely Pilgrim, has some excellent accounts of the search for and the finding of the tomb of St Peter which I strongly recommend to anyone interested in this subject.

Nearly two thousand years after his martyrdom, St Peter remains, to a majority of the world’s Catholics, the leader of the Apostles: deeply fallible in so many things, deeply loveable in his fallibility, possessing the charisma of the true leader, he is a dominating presence – and an example to us all that you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to want to follow the Lord with all your heart. St Peter, pray for us.