Michael Card is an award-winning musician with over 20 albums to his credit. He is also the author of numerous books including his most recent, A Fragile Stone: The Emotional Life of St. Peter. When looking for books on the apostle, Card learned that little had been written about him, despite the fact that he is mentioned hundreds of times in the New Testament. Card decided to write his own book.
When did you decide that you were going to write books in addition to writing music?
It came as a result of doing so much preparation for each record. I would spend a year getting ready to write ten songs on a given topic or a given biblical book, and then I would have piles of notes. I was saying so much in concert people would say, "Would you not talk so much and just play?" It occurred to me—I'll write all the other stuff that wouldn't fit in a song in a book.
What has your fascination with Peter as a character in scripture been?
In the course of teaching a home Bible study class on Acts, I realized I had labeled him and not listened to his life. I had a very shallow view of this wonderfully complex follower of Jesus who, I think, is the primary disciple.
You say when you read about him you saw him as complex and a "fragile stone".
The complexity thing fascinates me. He's not just popping off; there's usually a reason that he says and does the things that he does. I think he often said the right thing. He said what nobody else had the guts to say.
You have this amazingly courageous man who will jump in front of 600 armed soldiers by himself with a sword and start swinging away. Until he perceives that Jesus has given up, he would never have been able to see—even though Jesus told him it would happen—that Jesus would surrender to the Romans and let himself be bound and led off.
I imagine Peter looking back over his shoulder expecting Jesus to be throwing lightning bolts or swinging a sword or something. And when he sees that he's given up, I think that it's, not perhaps literally a nervous breakdown, but certainly an emotional breakdown.
Peter was the leader of the 12. When the disciples are listed, Peter's always first.
I think the disciples find, as the scholars call it, "corporate identity." Certainly Jesus is the leader, the master. But the 12 find a corporate identity in Peter. So Jesus will ask the 12 questions, and Peter will answer. Or the 12 will want to know something, and Peter will ask Jesus. Clearly in the first 12 chapters of Acts it's still that way. Peter is the head of the Jerusalem church. He decides about Ananias and Sapphira, and he decides about Matthias replacing Judas. He's the leader.
One of the most familiar stories is Peter walking on the water. Talk about some of what you came to understand about Peter in this story.
He's the first disciple to do a miracle. They're rowing against the wind, and in the middle of the night that must have been a pretty spooky thing. They see Jesus walking to them on the water, and they make the only logical conclusion that a person could make. It's a ghost. Who else could it be? Jesus shouts to them, "It's me, don't be afraid." And that's when Peter makes this strange request. And it's worded in a very particular way. He says, "If it's you, then tell me to come to you and I will." And Jesus says "Come." Bonhoeffer says that Peter had been with Jesus long enough to understand that the initiative always had to be with Jesus. Peter knows better than to say, "Watch this, I'm going to walk on the water to you."
The text doesn't say exactly how far, but he makes his way towards Jesus. Then he saw the wind and the waves, and he became afraid. He begins to sink, and Jesus reaches out his hand.
I think that the point is that Peter needed to sink. If he'd walked to Jesus, I'm sure he would have been very self-congratulatory. He needed to sink, just like you and I need to sink. Sinking is much more important than walking on the water.
You make this relationship between the transfiguration and going back down the hill and paying the temple tax. That's an extremely important insight into Peter beginning to see that things are changing.
The transfiguration is a significant time for Peter. It's the only time any of the disciples ever saw his glory. It's the only historical experience that Peter had with Jesus that Peter ever referred to in his letters.
They come down from the mountain after having this glorious experience and they go back to Capernaeum. Nobody is there except two temple tax collectors.
They go to Peter and say, "Does your Master pay the temple tax?" He's not supposed to pay the temple tax because he's a rabbi; he's a teacher. He's supposed to be exempt.
Peter, before he asks Jesus, says he does. Then he walks back into his house intent on asking Jesus. Before Peter has a chance to speak, Jesus asked, "Who do kings collect taxes from—foreigners or their own children?" Peter says, from foreigners.
And then Jesus says something—it's one of the most amazing things he says—he says, okay, we won't offend them. I think he wants to have some peace so he and Peter can spend this last time together before their final trip to Jerusalem.
Writing this book, you interacted not only with Peter but with the friendship between Jesus and Peter, how are things different for you now?
I look for echoes of that in my friendship with Jesus. I know that he's called me his friend, and I hope that I'm a friend back. I see him defining me the way he defined Peter. I see times when I walk on the water and times when I sink. Peter's life is a living parable. If we're going to understand what it means to be a disciple, we've got to look at his life.
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