Jesus nonetheless loved Peter and was willing to take a risk on him. He encouraged Peter not to give up, to lower his nets once more, to walk on water, to find the strength to accept his own frailty, to follow him on the way of the cross, to give his life for his brothers and sisters, to shepherd his flock. In this way, Jesus set Peter free from fear, from calculations based solely on worldly concerns. He gave him the courage to risk everything and the joy of becoming a fisher of men. It was Peter whom Jesus called to strengthen his brothers in faith (cf. Lk 22:32). He gave him – as we heard in the Gospel – the keys to open the doors leading to an encounter with the Lord and the power to bind and loose: to bind his brothers and sisters to Christ and to loosen the knots and chains in their lives (cf. Mt 16:19).
All that was possible only because – as we heard in the first reading – Peter himself had been set free. The chains that held him prisoner were shattered and, as on the night when the Israelites were set free from bondage in Egypt, he was told to arise in haste, fasten his belt and put on his sandals in order to go forth. The Lord then opened the doors before him (cf. Acts 12:7-10). Here we see a new history of opening, liberation, broken chains, exodus from the house of bondage. Peter had a Passover experience: the Lord set him free.
The Apostle Paul also experienced the freedom brought by Christ. He was set free from the most oppressive form of slavery, which is slavery to self. From Saul, the name of the first king of Israel, he became Paul, which means “small”. He was also set free from the religious fervour that had made him a zealous defender of his ancestral traditions (cf. Gal 1:14) and a cruel persecutor of Christians. Set free. Formal religious observance and the intransigent defence of tradition, rather than making him open to the love of God and of his brothers and sisters, had hardened him: he was a fundamentalist. God set him free from this, yet he did not spare him the frailties and hardships that rendered his mission of evangelization more fruitful: the strain of the apostolate, physical infirmity (cf. Gal 4:13-14); violence and persecution, shipwreck, hunger and thirst, and, as he himself tells us, a painful thorn in the flesh (cf. 2 Cor 12:7-10).