Feast of the Chair of St Peter
1 Peter 5:1-4; Psalm 23; Matthew 16:13-19
Seems odd that the church set aside a feast day for an item of furniture doesn’t it? However it’s not the physical chair that’s being celebrated but the office or position of St Peter and his successors. This reminds me of an experience during my time service national service in the army where I learned the difference between rank and appointment. I was helping to manage manpower movements in my army unit and I was told that a new officer (with the rank of Captain) was coming in to take on a senior appointment (that, on the books, was supposed to be filled by a Lieutenant Colonel). It seemed odd so I asked my superior why the senior appointment was filled by a person who was two ranks lower than ‘required’. I was told that it was common practice to give a person who has shown potential the opportunity to grow into a role or appointment that is a little beyond his or her rank.
Nobody is tailor-made for great things and even if one has the potential for it, that potential has to be identified and nurtured. In the Gospel, we see the simple fisherman Peter being told that he’s the rock or foundation upon which a great church is to be built upon. What a huge responsibility! And if we look into how this happened, he received the responsibility as a result of his saying something that came into his mind. Was he prepared for this? Probably not but perhaps this is a case of someone who is to take on something that’s a little beyond him for the moment.
We’re given our potential not through our own power but through the grace of God. Peter was not able to recognise the Lord just because of special power or knowledge but from God-given insight. He had the insight and the potential and chose to show it. Sometimes we’re given the potential but choose not to show it out of embarrassment or fear of failure. Peter was, in his normal impetuous self, not afraid of showing this insight that he had and we should follow in his footsteps in that respect. We don’t hide what we have under a bushel basket.
Peter dared to show his insight and his potential and was rewarded as a result. The reward was the initial praise from the Lord but I believe that the reward came later too. The reward came from the recognition of his potential to be a leader for the nascent church. This reward comes with it’s own challenges. Consider how overwhelmed Peter might have felt at that first moment. The Lord challenges us to go beyond ourselves everyday and the first reading shows this. We see how difficult it must have been to work to lead the early church as Peter did but we also see how he was able to go beyond oneself and to do things because he truly wanted to due to the call to do so. We trust that we receive some help from the Lord to fulfil such tall orders as such grace is always given.
The struggles and challenges are omnipresent. I remember the officer who stepped into the difficult appointment sharing that it was a difficult job and that he was quite overwhelmed in the beginning. But he persevered and flourished and eventually was promoted to a rank commensurate with his post. We have consolation from the psalm where we’re reminded that no matter the challenge or struggle, no matter how dark a valley we walk in, the Lord is there with his crook and staff to help us. This dark valley can take the form of our own self-doubt or insecurity but we can overcome them because the Lord gives grace to allow us to grow out of these challenges.
I believe that the Lord called Peter not because he was great but because he thought Peter could be great. He showed that he could be great in how he led the church later in his life. Despite the early hiccups where he was told to ‘get behind me Satan’ and the more serious time where he denied the Lord, we’re shown that even our weaknesses can’t stop our flourishing if we truly answer the Lord’s call. The Lord’s mercy shines through as we struggle to face the challenges and fail. We’re forgiven and continually strengthened by the Lord’s love and mercy. We’re all called to be great, called out of ourselves to do something better. Do we trust the Lord enough to say ‘yes’?