Two Calls to Peter

A Twilight Musing

Peter was called twice from his fishing by the Lake of Galilee to follow Jesus (Lk. 5:1-10, Jn. 21:1-19). The first time was full of hope, promise and excitement, a new beginning for a man who had lived a rough life (“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”); Jesus said to him and his partners, James and John, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” The second calling was to a Peter much chastened after his overconfidence in his own strength and ability had led him into actually denying that he even knew his Master. And this second call was much more ominous than the first, promising that his answering Jesus’ call to “feed my sheep” would result in his martyrdom. The parallels between these two accounts are striking. In each case, Jesus comes unexpectedly into Peter’s life while he is fishing, advising him and his companions to cast their nets once more, even though they have been repeatedly unsuccessful in catching any fish. As a result, they catch more fish than they can haul in. In both instances, there is dialogue between Peter and Jesus that ends in a call by Jesus for Peter to follow him. But there is also a big difference between the two calls Jesus gives to Peter, and only a Peter who had been brought up short by his insufficiency within himself could have responded to the second call.

Peter, like all strong and outgoing personalities, had to learn the hard way that his strong points were also his weak points. He could be insightful and spiritually informed, as when he was the only one of the disciples to answer Jesus’ question about who people thought He was with an explicit, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). But he could also be dense and uncomprehending, even to the extent of rebuking Jesus when He told the disciples that He was going up to Jerusalem to be put to death (Mark 8:31-33). Throughout Jesus’ ministry Peter was recognized as the leader of the disciples, and Jesus repeatedly singled him out in ways that anticipated his taking a leading role in the early church; nevertheless, in the midst of his boldness was a blindness to his faults, as in his boast that he would die to defend Jesus, followed shortly by his triple denial that he even knew Jesus. Peter had some hard learning to do between the first call of Jesus and the second.

In the following poem, I have depicted the enlightened Peter, looking back on His time with Jesus.

Sacrifice, Not Martyr
(Matt. 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 13, 18, 20, 21)

How glorious it seemed to me,
To die for Jesus.
And so I shall,
But not for my glory.
His story, not mine, defines my death.

He knew
My peril as prey of Satan,
And prayed for me;
But His warning found no place
To pierce my pride.
I turned aside His words,
And plunged headlong into the trap
The Enemy had set for me.
In the Garden I was ready,
Sword in hand, bold for battle!
But the Master stayed my hand
And healed the man I struck.
Disarmed and cowed,
I fled.

Following from afar,
Defenseless now for the real assault
(For I could not shift to the plane of His example),
I stood by the fire to observe,
Hoping yet to save Him from Himself.
And then those questions—
Pointing to me as one of His.
But none of His I proved.
Oblivious to my sin,
I betrayed Him from within.
And then His gentle gaze
Drove home cock’s crow,
Soul-piercing sound
That brought the bitter tears.

That purging, though,
Was not the end,
For Him nor me.
As Thomas touched His wounds
And healing found therein,
So I was also called anew
Beside Genessaret,
When one last time He supped with us.
Not my boast this time
Was focus for His words,
But gentle probing of my love for Him.
Profounder death he called for then
Than sword could bring:
Living sacrifice to serve His sheep,
And glory at the end,
When God would send
His cross for me.

Elton D. Higgs
July 1, 2014

Image: The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew by  Caravaggio


Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)