St. Peter the Loudmouth

+JMJ+

For the past couple of months, I’ve been {casually} working my way through Matthew’s Gospel. According to the Rule of Lay Dominicans, I should be trying to say my Liturgy of the Hours {and} doing regular meditation on Sacred Scripture every day, but with the kids this is a slow, almost Sisyphus-ian task of building habits, being adaptable to rapid changes, and then settling into routine again. All you parents know.

Right now I am in the middle of the Gospel and as I sat sipping my coffee this morning, I was struck by the character of Peter in these chapters (14-17), namely that when you read this entire section as a single chunk (rather than split up through the lectionary), you get the impression that Peter is rather a bit of a loudmouth.

Jesus is walking on water and Peter calls out:

“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” – Mt 14:28

Far from being a profession of faith and trust, I began to think that perhaps Peter is just the guy who impetuously yells out a challenge: “Oh yeah? If it’s you, prove it!” It is, ultimately, Peter’s trust which enables him to walk with Jesus on the water, however briefly, but as I continued along in my reading, I started seeing Peter as That Guy Who Can’t Shut Up.

Later, Jesus is speaking with his disciples. “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Mt 16:13) They all answer. Then, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mt 16:15)

Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” (Mt 16:16)

I don’t want to downplay the importance of Simon Peter speaking up at this point, for it is this confession that prompts Jesus to give him the title “Peter” (petros, rock) and bequeath to him the keys to the kingdom. But then Jesus predicts His passion and we hear:

Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him. “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” (Mt 16:22)

Get behind me Satan! I mean, thanks for the concern and all, but who are you to question this plan?

And then we turn to the Transfiguration. Peter, James and John go up the mountain with Jesus, Elijah and Moses join them and guess who is the first to speak? Yep.

Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah. While he was still speaking, behold a bright cloud cast a shadow over them. (Mt 17:4-5)

PETER IS STILL SPEAKING and God just goes on with this whole self-revelation thing over the top of the noise. Again, I don’t want to downplay how important it is that *Peter* is the one making all of these professions and showing his eagerness to respond to Christ. But in these few episodes, combined with fact that in just a few chapters, Peter’s impetuous nature will lead him to deny his Messiah and Lord, the singular impression I am left with is that of a disciple whose just blurts out his thoughts, completely unfiltered, for better or for worse. And I can imagine that some nights, after a long day of listening to Jesus preach and trekking around in the desert, Simon Peter would lie awake hitting himself over the head saying, Stupid! Stupid! Why did I say that??

By way of analogy, he’s like that kid on the basketball team who hasn’t learned when to take a shot. He just shoots all the time. Sometimes the result is an impressive 3-pointer! Nothing but net! But other times he just gets a fist in the face or a brick off the backboard.

I actually like this. It somehow makes Peter a little more relatable to me, for I, too, am a Loudmouth.

Cue: Dominican jokes.

But it’s true. The vocation to preach is born from people who just can’t help themselves sometimes when it comes to public speaking.  I’ve written a little bit before about the four temperaments  (I’m a choleric-sanguine), and I must confess that for years I’ve felt a bit of tension and frustration at the fact that my personality (Meyers-Briggs gives me an ENTJ or ESTJ) is best suited to high-profile professions like CEO of a major Fortune-500 company– I’m not naturally suited in some ways for domestic life or parish ministry. I’m impatient and demanding. I expect rapid results, order, efficiency, and I love to hear myself talk.

It’s not a reputation that won me a lot of friends in my theology classes, that’s for sure. I actually made a girl cry in discussion section one time. Another time, I called my professor a Dualist– to her face. I actually had a friend pull me aside one day and say, “You know, you can be really abrasive. You argue all the time. Even when people like me agree with you, it still sounds like you’re arguing.”

Wow. What a slice of humble pie that was. And what a struggle this still is.

st peter
St. Peter in Penitence- El Greco, public domain

So you might see how Peter resonates with a person like me who has A Hard Time Shutting Up. As I read through these episodes in the gospel, I find myself wondering if God has given me a bit of the “raw stuff” that He also gave Peter.  Every personality has its own natural merits and struggles and I can see that some of my problems may be similar to what Peter experienced as he accompanied Jesus. I, too, may fall into the trap of saying something impetuous and being rebuked as “Satan.” Or, I could fall into the same trap of denial when the going gets rough. But that also means that I, too, could share his strengths.

This is where Pentecost comes in.

In chapter 2 of Luke’s Act of the Apostles, Peter– the perpetual, impetuous Loudmouth– takes center stage as the Church’s first Preacher. Infused by the Holy Spirit, this man whose natural talents produced mixed results (3-pointer or total air ball?), now emerges from the locked upper room and finds that his gift of gab is transformed (transfigured?) in to an ability to proclaim the Gospel to all Jerusalem.

Like a good coach, the Holy Spirit has taken what was a natural gift, untrained by virtue and grace, and shown how this same gift– which could be viewed as a weakness and a stumbling block to Heaven– can also be used for the building of the Kingdom.

This is the same Spirit who, at our own Confirmation, seals us with the Seven-Fold gifts which will enable us to serve the Church in our own unique way. I have yet to see a young person receive the Holy Spirit as vividly as the apostles did, with tongues of flame and the sudden urge to burst out into the street and preach, but the Spirit works in us all the same.

My Loud-Mouth-ENTJ-choleric tendencies are a part of how God made me– only He knows why. It does no good for me to bemoan the difficulties I experience in trying to rein in some of my less-than-virtuous impulses. Everyone struggles with that in their own way. Rather, it is more constructive for me to look at how God could use these talents/challenges if I were to shift the focus from myself, onto Him.

I read in Peter a disciple who is trying very hard to win the approval of his Teacher, and perhaps what makes him triumphant in the end is the fact that this desire for approval is truly genuine. He isn’t afraid to speak up, even if that means he gets it wrong.  Speaking up is how he shows that he’s listening, he’s eager to learn, he wants to follow Jesus and to participate in this whole Kingdom Thing. That he doesn’t quite understand it yet, or isn’t fully equipped to do his part, or can’t keep his mouth shut sometimes when he should probably be listening, is what makes him so compelling as a character and as a model of holiness and faith. It is an important part of the story of the Church that our first Pope was not only eager to be at the “head of the class,” but that he failed along the way, Christ picked him up, filled him with the Holy Spirit, and told him to keep going. It gives me hope that if I, too, keep trying– if, like Peter, I really set my sights on Christ and make an effort to walk with Him and learn from Him and love Him, that the Holy Spirit will likewise transform my gifts so that I can serve Him and His sheep.

+St. Peter the Loudmouth, pray for me!+

Do you have an apostle/saint who resonates with you as a similar personality type? What do you learn from their example? 

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