This week at daily Mass, we began to work through the Second Letter of Peter. Monday’s reading began with the second verse, so I went looking and found the first: Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
At first that took me aback: those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours. Who is that? Whose faith is of equal standing with that of Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ? Peter’s faith is of the highest standing, suitable for an apostle, even the prince of the apostles. I realized that he was talking to all of the believers who would receive his letter, including you and me. What a shock to realize that Peter would consider my faith to be of equal standing to his!
Peter’s faith, the development of which we have all witnessed, was all zeal and impetuosity, love and insight, until that time when it was overcome by fear: I tell you, I do not know the man! When the cock crowed, his faith disintegrated. So it seemed to him, and seems to us.
But the Peter who writes us this letter has his faith restored. The risen Jesus appeared to him, and even made him breakfast. This, surely, elevated Peter’s faith to a level strength and importance that surpasses anything I could achieve – doesn’t it?
Well, expressed that way, yes, because Peter did not “achieve” faith, and neither will I. But faith was given to Peter from the Father, and nourished and fortified in the experience of the risen Son. So, even if the Father has given me faith, how can it be “of equal standing” with the faith of Peter, who saw and touched and talked to the risen Lord?
The answer lies in that conversation on the beach after a night’s fishing. Jesus asked, Simon, do you love me? three times, once for each denial; and admonished Peter to feed and tend his sheep, then assured him that his death would glorify the Lord. So Peter’s experience of the resurrection was not characterized by the breakfast, but by the forgiveness Jesus gave him. That is precisely the experience of the risen Jesus that is at the root of my faith, and yours. Therefore, our faith has equal standing with his: it is from God, by his mercy, given to us who regret and turn away from our sins and receive forgiveness from the risen Jesus.
Peter values the faith of us who read his letter, and encourages us to treat it like the precious gift it is, caring for it: For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
So if a preacher happens to encourage you to strive for greater virtue, he is not demeaning your faith – far from it! He is valuing your faith as highly as his own, and Saint Peter’s, by exhorting you to supplement it.
Similarly, if a teacher suggests that you would benefit from studying the content of the Faith, exploring its teachings and meditating on its truths, then he, too, is indeed showing respect for the faith that abides in you, and calling you to do the same by increasing your knowledge.
When we are reminded of our responsibility to nurture, teach, and practice our faith, remember: what motivates that admonition is not an assumption that your faith or mine is second-rate. No, your faith, and mine, is of equal standing with that of an Apostle! But let that realization be the beginning of our work to keep it strong and make it stronger, just as this remarkable assurance form Peter is at the beginning of a most instructional letter.