Maybe it’s a sign of age, but I often find myself dismayed at the lack of quality programmes on BBC TV. But over Easter the Beeb showed just how good it can be when it screened In the Footsteps of St Peter.
Presented by David Suchet, best known as the detective in the acclaimed TV series Agatha Christie’s Poirot, the two-part programme revealed a rounded and fascinating picture of the fisherman who came to be regarded as the first pope.
The engaging and thoughtful Suchet began and ended his journey in Rome, where Peter is said to have been martyred in 64 AD. In between, he traced the life of Peter from the hills of Galilee to Jerusalem.
Along the way, Suchet talked to biblical scholars, historians and archaeologists, who all provided intriguing glimpses into the kind of life Peter – “Rocky”, as Suchet called him – might have lived in the first century.
Suchet’s questions were intelligent and his reflections thought provoking. He suggested that far from being a poor fisherman Peter was more likely to have been an entrepeneur with his own fishing business. This was because Peter would have had to be financially secure to leave his wife and dependents to follow Jesus for three years.
Walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Suchet mused, “Down the centuries, water levels rise and fall but walking along this shore, I feel I’m following in Peter’s footsteps and the gospels tell us that somewhere here, Jesus recruited Peter, his brother Andrew and some of the other fishermen to his cause. Come follow me and I will send you out to fish for people.”
Suchet also saw a fishing boat which had been uncovered after being preserved in the mud for 2,000 years. The curator said St Peter would have probably fished in a similar one. “That gave me such a feeling of closeness to him and his world,” said Suchet.
Suchet concluded that behind Peter’s celebrity status was ”a strong-willed, devoted but often flawed disciple”, struggling to make sense of his encounter with Jesus.
When you see a biblical figure brought to life in this way, you wonder why so much of the preaching you hear in churches fails to do this. After all, the priest or vicar up there on the sanctuary is supposed to be the expert on things biblical.
This was terrific TV, fulfilling the BBC remit set out by Lord Reith at its launch in 1922 to inform, educate and entertain. I just wish there were more programmes like it.