Doubting Peter

It seems as if Peter is the disciple who does the most doubting.

Hear the Words

Listen to an audio version of this reflection.

The Scripture

Mark 8:31-38
as told by Deborah

Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the authorities, the clergy, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

He said all this quite openly. Everybody heard it.

Peter took him aside and began to reproach him. “That’s crazy talk! You’re the messiah of God; the one who will lead us to victory and freedom! You’ll rule over the new kingdom!”

Turning away from him and speaking so all his disciples could hear, Jesus reproached Peter, “Follow me, don’t look to the world, O Tempter! You’re focused on human things, and are blind to the divine ones.”

He summoned the crowd and spoke to them along with his disciples, saying, ”To become my follower, follow me. Let go of your wants and worldly expectations, and — whatever may come, walk in my Way.

“Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for My sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it. For what is all worldly power and glory compared with full life? What can the world offer in exchange for your soul?

“Those who turn their backs on me and my words in this wicked and idolatrous generation, the Son of Man will turn his back on when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Photo of a flower

Oh no, Lord, that can’t be right! by Deborah Beach Giordano

Arguing with Jesus

“Get behind me, Satan!”

Poor Peter. It’s so easy to criticize him: he of little faith; far more of a "doubting disciple" than Thomas the disciple ever was. Standing there, reproaching Jesus — scolding Jesus! — for saying things he didn’t want to hear. Imagine that. What nerve! What a disgraceful doubter!

And yet.

Who among us hasn’t made an argument like Peter’s — in our words, our thoughts, our prayers: “This isn’t right! It’s not how things are supposed to go! You can’t do that!”

We want life to be fair, for everything to work out as it “should.” More than that, we want all to go well for us and for those we love. The path should be wide and smooth and pleasant: “a walk in the park” — a lovely, green and shaded park free from pigeons and pickpockets and dog poop.

green and pleasant park

Hope and Faith

Lift up your eyes!

We should hope for the best, imagining an outcome which brings greater goodness and grace, care and compassion into the world. That sort of vision inspires us to plan and to pray and to work, and has brought countless benefits to humankind. It is a noble and holy impulse.

Trouble arises when our plans are disrupted, when our path is blocked, when what we have built up is torn down, when enemies and sorrows surround us…. in other words: when life doesn’t proceed as we think it ought. Then we kick up a fuss and start arguing with God.

Peter covering his earsOur friend Peter articulates the experience perfectly as he pulls Jesus aside to berate Him: “No! That’s terrible! Don’t let it go on like this!” We are frightened, confused, overwhelmed; we are absolutely, unequivocally convinced that what is happening is not ok.

When life gets hard, it is tempting to shut down, to avoid our responsibility; to want to take the easy way out. It isn’t the most faithful response, but it is a very human one. Peter succumbed, and I think it was clearly a challenge for Jesus, too; why else would our Lord have prayed so earnestly, “Not my will, Father, but Thine” in the garden of Gethsemane? Why else did he respond to Peter so sharply — calling him “Satan”: tempter, deceiver — as if his words might tempt Jesus to abandon his Work?

There are times when alternatives are available to us, when we can walk in His Way without pain or distress. But there are times when we must, as Jesus tells us, “take up our cross and follow Him.” Sometimes our only option is to go forward, with courage and faith.

“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”


Do not be afraid.

Of all the promises, commandments, and cautions in the Holy Scriptures, this one phrase is the most repeated: Do not be afraid. It is as simple — and as complicated — as that.

Fear lurks in the shadows like a hungry lion. It can consume us, devouring our hope, our courage, even our ability to think. Fear makes us react rather than reason; we become as so many sheep without a shepherd: rushing about in every direction, jumping at every shadow, confused and miserable, easy prey for our enemies.

Our God is the author of the Exodus, the One who led the Hebrew people out of their enslavement to Pharaoh, our God frees us from our subjugation to all of the would-be gods of this world, including the glitter, the glories, and the fears that would rule over us.

Do not be afraid.

Of course that’s easy to say — and much harder to live into, especially now. Equally, never has it been more important for our hearts and minds and souls and strength to be hopeful, faithful, and courageous.

Be Prepared!

Behold, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
    ~ Matthew 10:16

Our first line of defense against this Spiritual Enemy is preparation. “Know your enemy”: realize that fear is out there, that it is real and powerful; recognize that it is soul-eroding, emotionally destructive, and can literally paralyze us. Take steps to stay safe, accordingly.

Prepare yourself. Pray, meditate, read the Scriptures and the lives of great saints; take care of your body with good nourishment and get plenty of exercise — not forgetting to exercise those important facial muscles that are used in smiling.

Smile. Yes, smile. A beautiful gift that has been hidden away so often of late.

To assist you in this exercise, here are a few practice helps:

I found out that my dog can play the piano. Turns out her Bach is worse than her bite.

When the bald man received a comb for his birthday, he told his friend he couldn’t part with it.


A farmer wanted to know how many sheep were in the lower pasture, so he sent his border collie to count them. In a few minutes the dog was back. “There are forty sheep out there, boss,” he reported. “How can that be?” asked the farmer, “I only bought 38.” “Easy,” replied the dog, “I rounded them up.”

What sounds like a sneeze but is made of leather? ~ A shoe.

A recent study found that humans eat more bananas than monkeys. That doesn’t surprise me; I can’t remember the last time I ate a monkey.


It helps to keep a small stockpile of Uplifters as part of our Preparedness Kit: funny stories, photos of loved ones, comics and clever sayings, things that make you smile. These can serve to lighten our hearts when we are menaced by fear.

Our hope and our cheer will always be threatened by worries and frets and fearful reports. It has ever been thus, and has ever been a challenge to living a full — a meaning-full — life. As I suggested earlier, even our Lord Jesus had to confront the temptation to give in and give up — and He gave us a good example to follow when these arise: Send it packing. Firmly, clearly, loudly if necessary: “Get outta here! I’m following Christ’s way, not your way, you bearer of hopelessness, misery, and defeat.”

encourage-mintIt is a sort of exorcism: banishing the evil spirit — casting it away from your presence. Along those lines, it is astonishingly helpful — nearly miraculous — to banish the material and messages that generate anger and outrage and fear. That’s been particularly difficult during this year of lockdowns and limited availability of outside recreation; stuck to the set or the screen, our world is not enlarged, but narrowed. Those sources can be banished and managed, but it does take effort.

Depressed versus Depression

Suggestions to smile, to seek joy, to be hopeful; words of encouragement and funny stories can be helpful for many people. But for those suffering from Depression (which is not the same as occasionally feeling depressed) these can add to the burden of life. Even sympathetic comments can feel oppressive, guilt-inducing: as if — on top of feeling hollow, lifeless, weak and weary — it is their fault; as if they are responsible for their hopeless attitude, as if they have failed in their faith, their thinking, their life. It is a deep and terrible pit to be caught in.

Those who can must pull up our socks, take up the day’s cross, and carry on. For those who cannot, it is a call to be both patient and kind with ourselves (as we should all be, always!). And further, it offers the challenge and opportunity to be honest about our condition and admit our need for help. Lists of resources appear here and here.

The Last Word

Lastly — and firstly, too! — we can never forget that the last word is God’s Word.

The authorities attempted to silence the Gospel by maligning the one who proclaimed it, and with threats, intimidation, persecution, abuse, mockery and, finally, murder. They believed that their worldly power was ultimate and final (after all, they had exchanged their souls for it), and were certain that they had killed the Man and destroyed His Message.

And then….

The seemingly impossible happened.

after three days he rose again.

Hold on, Peter

Despite the most ferocious efforts of the worldly powers, the Gospel was not quashed, the Light was not extinguished. Instead, it came back in radiant glory, first in the rays of the Easter sunrise, then in the tremendous effulgence of Pentecost — and from there .... “into all the world.”

Do not be afraid.

May the Good News of Christ warm your heart and light your way,


Suggested Spiritual Exercises

Cast the demon Fear away from you.

Be of good cheer.

Do not be afraid.