Peter

by Clive Sansom in The Witnesses

For a while, Mark, lay your scoll aside. I need your eyes. When I’m dictating I think in words. That kind of thinking blurs what’s behind the words. You see, I’m no scholar, friend – nor ever will be. Words come hardly to me, very hardly. Though I have fought them for our Master’s sake, I’ll never be their master. Talking’s all right: You see the other’s face; talking is natural. But when I watch you setting down my speech in black and white, it puts my tongue in fetters. So this evening, Mark, just let me say my memories to you. I want to recall this clearer than the rest – it most concerns me. I would remember and re-live what happened on the road to Caesarea, those years ago.

We were walking despondently towards the city discouraged and alone. Driven from Galilee, each had his own regrets. Yes, even he was sorrowful – I sensed it – saying little, scarcely answering…then all at once the sound of water. We raised our heads, and rearing over us, a cliff of limestone, brilliant in sunlight. Streaks of iron, like blood, ran down it, and from a cave half down the rock, the Jordan river descending from the heights of Hermon poured out its spring-clear waters. We stopped, seeing the city of Caesarea behind a lace of spray – the trees, white roofs and towers. It should have lifted us, that sudden vision. Somehow it didn’t. It made us more despondent. For I thought – or was it he who thought and I who felt him? This water that is born so hopefully ends in the Dead Seas’s useless desolation. Abruptly he asked, ‘Who do men say I am?’ We answered variously, ‘John the Baptist, risen’, ‘Elijah or Jeremiah’, ‘One of the prophets’. Silence, the water speaking. Then he asked: ‘Who do you say I am?’ Another silence – only a moment, but enough to tell our disillusionment. I cried – No, rather I heard the words drawn from me – The voice was not my own: ‘You are the Christ, Son of the living God!’ He turned to me transfigured. His face was God’s. ‘Peter‘ (he named me then), ‘You are the rock on which I build my church. The gates of hell shall not prevail against you.’ Oh, Mark, men have their moments, – that was mine, The phrase I’d lived for. Since then I have betrayed it – doubted, denied, deserted him but always those words return, with their background of falling water, each time more powerful than before. For he saw me, not as I was, but as I might become. His faith has hardened me. In course of time the rock has petrified. When that hour comes when I must follow him who questioned me, I shall not fail again. The gates of hell, as he once prophesied, shall not prevail.

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