Capernum. Near the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd has gathered to listen to an itinerant preacher, but much of his sermon has been hard to accept, and many now turn to walk away. The rabbi looks at those nearest him and asks if they, too, will leave. Just then, a strong-looking man of swarthy complexion pushes his way forward and declares, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe, and to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
As believers, we treasure these bold words of Peter. They constitute a startling confession of faith from a simple man who had come to a realization, at least a partial awareness, that there was something bigger than himself in the world; something divine. At this point in the gospel narrative, he has seen Jesus in action; he has seen miracles and heard sublime teachings. He has come to believe.
But I also sense that Peter does not get the “full picture” even as he makes his assertions about Jesus. I could be wrong, of course, but I discern a bit of agnosticism in Peter’s voice, too, not unlike the father of the demon-possessed boy who cried out, “I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
I can almost hear Peter continuing to say to Jesus something along these lines, “And even if we’re mistaken about who you are, Lord, which of course we hope we’re not, we’re not going anywhere without you. You have captured our hearts and we want to be with you forever.”
Many centuries later, a great Russian writer said something similar. You will surely recognize his name – Fyodor Dostoevsky, the author of Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. What you may not know is that he was arrested as a young man, accused of subversion against the Tsar, and sentenced to four years of hard labor in the Siberian gulag. At the time, he had only written one book, Poor Folk, and was far from being a literary celebrity. While living in the hell of the gulag, Fyodor treasured a slim volume given him by a devout woman who had met him on his way to the prison camp. It was the New Testament, and Fyodor kept it with him throughout his imprisonment, reading it daily and often sharing what he had read with his fellow prisoners, using it in fact to teach some of them how to read.