Who Is St. Peter?
Simon Peter was among the first disciples called by Jesus. A fisherman by trade, he worked with his brother Andrew and partners James and John, sons of Zebedee. The three, Peter, James, and John, appeared to have been Jesus’ three closest disciples, the ones he singled out to follow him when others stayed behind.
It was Jesus who gave Simon the name Peter. When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon spoke up and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! It was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter (the rock), and on this rock I will build my church.” Matthew 16:13ff.
It might have seemed odd to Peter and his fellow disciples to hear him called “the rock”. Although he is clearly a leader among the inner circle of followers, the glimpses we have of Peter throughout the New Testament show him to be impulsive and passionate, with a tendency to be carried away by the moment. But he is also open to the promptings of the Spirit, able to see that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Jesus sees in Peter, despite all his flaws, the strong witness and leader he will become in the developing Church.
Saint Peter is an Apostle sinners can relate to. He is a reminder that God loves us and calls us to follow him even in our weaknesses and imperfections. The very things that we may consider character flaws - in Peter’s case, impulsiveness, talking before he thinks, even denying he knows Jesus – become the things out of which Jesus builds his church. In the book of Acts, Peter’s willingness to hear and follow the voice of his Lord and to fearlessly speak God’s word paved the way for the acceptance of gentiles in the Church and for the Church’s spread throughout the Mediterranean.
Tradition tells us that St. Peter was martyred in Rome, by crucifixion. One symbol for Peter is an upside-down cross because it is said that he did not think he should die the same way Jesus did and therefore asked to be crucified upside down. A second common symbol for Peter is keys because Jesus also said “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”. Mt. 16:19