September 23, 2012
John 13:31-38; 18:15-18, 25-27; 21:15-19
I know some of you are familiar with various personality tests. Myers-Briggs is a popular one. You answer several questions and then get an assessment of your personality type. Are you an introvert or extrovert? Intuitive or relying on concrete data? Thinking or Feeling? Spontaneous or Organized? Of course, every person has their own distinct personality and individual quirks, but these types of tests can be surprisingly accurate. I always have couples do these tests during premarital counseling. It helps to understand the personality of the person you plan to live with for the rest of your life.
Maybe Jesus should have administered these tests before calling people as disciples. Tried to get some reasonable–and reasonably compatible–people in his group. Because, as you may already have noticed this far into our worship series on disciples, Jesus winds up with some real characters in his entourage.
There may be no character in this group we know better than Peter. He is one of the first disciples called by Jesus, one of the inner circle during Jesus’ earthly ministry, and a key leader in the early church. Peter. The Rock. If you read through the Gospels, you will get a real sense for what Peter is like–his personality. We could make a fairly reasonable guess about his Myers-Briggs personality test results.
You might remember me mentioning at the beginning of this series on disciples that I has suggested we do an entire series just on Peter. But alas I don’t get to do twelve sermons on Peter. This is my one shot. So to give you a sense of his personality, I want to run you through some key scenes:
–drops everything to follow Jesus
–walking to Jesus on the water
–“You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” (You are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my church . . . )
–rebukes Jesus / “Get behind me, Satan.”
–wants to build shelters on the Mount of Transfiguration
–Peter is the one who asks Jesus how many times he must forgive (Matt. 18)
–won’t let Jesus wash feet–then says Jesus should wash everything
–Jesus takes Peter w/ him when he prays in the garden; Peter falls asleep
–Peter cuts off ear of high priest’s servant
Perhaps you’ve known some Peters in your life. Enthusiastic and excitable. Inquisitive and impulsive. Someone with the best of intentions, but maybe not the best follow through. The kid in class that you would consider a brown noser except that she’s so sincere.
So what’s your guess about his personality type? I’d say extrovert, intuitive, feeling, and perceptive–meaning he’s more of a go with the flow kind of guy than a planner. Maybe I wanted to do an entire series on Peter because I wanted to spend some time with someone so much like me. I can totally see myself stepping out of the boat–and subsequently panicking. That would have been me gathering wood, pulling out the toolbox on the mount of transfiguration.
Maybe you resonate with Peter a bit as well. Or maybe you have a different personality entirely. Maybe you don’t rely on intuition, but on sensory perceptions, like Thomas. You may not be an extrovert, but an introvert, like maybe Bartholomew or Thaddeus or one of the others that don’t speak up much. Maybe, like Matthew, you’d rather handle the money and let someone else deal with the emotional stuff–the pleading mothers and desperate fathers.
In the end, it’s not Peter’s particular personality that is important, but the fact that he has one. As do all of the disciples. That Jesus surrounds himself with real people who have different ways of being and relating in the world. That Jesus calls all of these people, loves all of these people, uses all of these people to bring God’s healing and love to the world.
Of course, our particular personalities can make us more or less likely to err in certain ways. Surely it is Peter’s deep desire to please people and his intuitive sensitivity to the people around him that cause him to insist that he will NEVER desert Jesus. In fact, he will DIE for Jesus–bring it on! And these same desires and sensitivities that cause him to blurt out, “Don’t know him. Nope. Never heard of the guy.”
Impulsive people tend to have regrets. And this is Peter’s big one. He has denied Jesus.
Peter’s impulsiveness, of course, doesn’t end with the crucifixion. Whatever his faults and mistakes, Peter is still who he is.
Impatient waiting around for instructions from Jesus after the resurrection, it is Peter who finally says, “Come on guys, let’s just go fishing.” And when they are all out on the boat, Jesus calls to them from shore. When Peter realizes it is Jesus, he jumps into the water. While the other disciples, the reasonable ones, follow in the boat.
You might think that, at this point, Peter would be a little hesitant to see Jesus, would feel some guilt and reserve because of denying him three times–before the rooster crowed. But remember, Peter is impulsive. Peter is passionate. Peter loves Jesus and will not–as we have already seen–hesitate to step out of the boat in order to get to Jesus.
And then comes the final scene between Peter and Jesus in John’s gospel. It’s probably familiar to many of you. Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times Jesus asks and three times Peter says, “Of course I love you.” Three times Jesus gives Peter instructions: “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.”
This scene is often referred to as the reinstatement of Peter. He denied Jesus three times, and now Jesus gives him the chance to state his love three times. It is a moment of grace, to be sure.
But this grace goes beyond Jesus simply giving Peter a chance to correct a previous mistake. The grace offered here is the grace of Jesus taking Peter for who he is, the grace of Jesus accepting the personality of Peter even as he points Peter toward a more faithful path.
I do get the parallel of the three denials and three affirmations. I wouldn’t want to discount the significance of that. But living with an impulsive child, I also understand that there are reasons you might ask a question three times. Because the first time, the passionate, impulsive one just says what he feels like you want to hear, what seems like the right answer. And the second time he just repeats his first answer. And maybe the third time he really hears the question. It suits Peter’s personality for Jesus to ask the question three times.
And it suits Peter’s personality for Jesus to give him instructions about what to do. Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Peter wants to have things to do. He instinctively wants to take care of people, to protect those he loves. We’ve seen it over and over and over again. Peter is passionate about loving Jesus. So Jesus is telling him how to continue that love and that passion–even when Jesus is no longer with him.
This final scene between Jesus and Peter is a scene of grace on so many levels. This last point I want to make involves a little bit of nerdy Greek word study–but I know you’re all up to it.
You may have learned that Biblical Greek uses three distinct terms for love. There is eros, which is a passionate, sensual love; philos, which indicates a deep friendship, an affection; and agape, which carries the sense of a deeper love that goes beyond mere attraction. For early Christians, agape was used to name God’s love for us.
So in this exchange between Jesus and Peter, it is important to note that the first two times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”, Jesus uses the term agape. And the first two times Peter responds, “Yes, I love you,” he responds with philos.
Now some people will say that this discrepancy in the Greek terms used here shows that Peter doesn’t love Jesus in the way that he should. Peter is not really offering Jesus what Jesus is asking for.
But something very interesting happens the third time Jesus asks the question; Jesus changes the word he uses: “Peter do you love–philos–me?” And Peter again responds, “Yes. You know that I love–philos–you.”
In the end, the love that Peter has is enough. If philos is what he has to offer, then philos is what Jesus asks for.
If impulsiveness is who he is, then Jesus can use that. If enthusiasm is what Peter has to offer, Jesus can use that too.
Outgoing or shy. Looking at facts or going on hunches. Thinking with your head or thinking with your heart. Being spontaneous or planning ahead. We are who God created us to be.
Yes, Jesus seeks to transform and redeem us. That doesn’t mean God wants us to become different people, it means that God wants us to be who we are in service of the kingdom–to feed the lambs, tend the sheep in those ways that we uniquely can.
I believe this is true for individuals. I believe this is true for churches.
Always. Always. Christ meets us where we are. Christ honors who we are. Christ calls us to use all that we have and all that we are in the kingdom works of compassion, peace, justice.