I greatly identify with the apostle Peter. He was a man full of great intentions whose mouth often got ahead of his mind. He reacted quickly and spoke in great sweeping generalizations. Whenever I read a passage where Peter speaks before thinking I nod with a glimmer of recognition. Oh yes. There I am. I would have been the one who brashly stated how confident I was in Jesus’ divinity. I would have confidently proclaimed that I would never abandon him in his hour of need. And then when the heat got turned up, just like Peter, I would have turned tail and run.
One particular story involving Peter has been on my mind lately. It comes from John 21. Jesus has just appeared to the disciples in his resurrected form. He’s made them breakfast on the shore and given Peter a chance to redeem himself. Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him and each time Peter emphatically replies yes. It’s a beautiful moment full of symmetry. Peter is given a chance to clear the three times he denied knowing Jesus during his trial and crucifixion. It’s a moment of healing and love where Jesus gives Peter the purpose of his life after Jesus ascends to heaven; to feed his sheep. And right after it happens Peter sticks his foot in his mouth again. In verse 20 it says.
Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved—the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who will betray you?” Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?” Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”
This passage always makes me laugh because I picture Peter being like a small child when he asks “what about him?”. I laugh and I cringe because I recognize the instinct. Jesus gives me direction and I nod then turn to look at my friend. What about her? What about them? What will they do? And Jesus shakes his head. I’m missing the point.
In my contemplation about this (as well as reading this post from The Junia Project this week) I was reminded of a moment my worship team small group had a few months back. We were talking about the story of Martha and Mary and how often we are told how to be like Mary and not be like Martha.
I wonder though. Is it bad to be Martha? I mean without Martha nobody in that room would have had any food. They would have had nowhere to sit and listen to Jesus if she hadn’t opened her home. In re-reading the story I had a bit of an epiphany. Now keep in mind I’m not a theologian and I haven’t studied this passage extensively so take what I say for what it truly is; just my opinion. When Jesus tells Martha that Mary has discovered the one thing worth being concerned about I think we tend to see that as a zero sum game. Jesus says what Mary is doing is the most important therefore what Martha does is not important.Right? Well I don’t think so. I think that’s wrong. I don’t think Jesus wants us to see something wrong in Martha being in the kitchen.
We need to be both Mary and Martha. Sometimes we need to roll up our sleeves and get dirty in the kitchen, creating an atmosphere where Jesus can speak to those who may not know him yet. And sometimes we need to step out of the kitchen and sit at his feet in the environment we have helped create so we can hear from him ourselves. The thing is we aren’t all going to be in the kitchen at the same time and we aren’t all going to be in the living room at the same time.
Now I bring it back around to Peter. I want to stop worrying about what God’s telling someone else around me. Maybe he’s telling me to make the food and maybe he’s telling the person next to me to take a break from making the food and sit for awhile. When I worry about what he’s saying to other people that usually means my own work isn’t getting done. When Martha took time to come out and ask Jesus to rebuke Mary she not only was missing learning at Jesus’ feet, she also was letting her work in the kitchen lay idle.
What I love about that story with Peter is that it comes from the end of the book of John. I only flip over a couple of pages to the book of Acts and see what Peter can do when empowered by the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost he speaks with boldness and great faith and thousands come to know Christ. It’s encouraging to this women with a whole lot of Peter and a whole lot of Martha in her to know that I can have great impact on the world when I’m willing to turn myself whole heartedly over to Christ. My mouth still gets ahead of me and sometimes I’m still worried about what the person next to me is doing. But more and more when those moments happen I turn my face from the one next to me to the one in front of me. He has a job for me to do and I want to do it well.