Peter and Me
Today I'm reflecting on the Fourth of the Stations of the Cross, the betrayal of Jesus by Simon Peter. At this point in the story, Jesus has been abandoned by his entourage, betrayed by Judas and condemned by the Sanhedrin. His friends have all run away from him in his time of need. His own disciple has literally sold him out. The leaders of the religion that supposedly worships Him and His Father have turned him over to die.
While he is being examined and beaten, one of his closest friends is out in the courtyard warming himself. When Peter is asked if he knows Jesus, Peter denies his Lord three times (with increasing ferocity).
When the disciples run away from Gethsemane, we might excuse their behavior because they were being physically threatened. A huge number of soldiers had surrounded them, after all. When Judas betrays Jesus, we can see him as a villain, as the “bad guy” in the story. And we all expect bad guys to do bad things. When the Sanhedrin condemns Jesus, we aren’t surprised. After all, the religious leaders never liked him.
But what about Peter? The man who was as close as a brother? Peter saw his mother-in-law cured. Peter fished for a gold coin that Jesus and he split to pay a tax. Peter saw Jesus transfigured on the holy mountain. So Peter had seen all the things the other disciples had seen, but he also had individual experiences of Jesus’ love, power, and faithfulness.
Peter’s denial of Jesus, therefore, is tragic. Not evil, like Judas’. Not expected, like the Sanhedrin. Just entirely sad.
And why does Peter do it? Because he is no more, and no less, than one of us. He is as given to fear, to embarrassment, to self-loathing, and to despair as you and I are. I identify with Peter.
When we meditate on this event in the Stations liturgy, we pray “ O God, you know us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: Grant us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers, and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
It is right for us to pray that. We are in the many of so many dangers and temptations that we can not always stand. Like Peter, we will fall, we will fail, we will surrender. Afterwards, if we are blessed, we will find ourselves out in the darkness, weeping bitterly as Peter did.
That is the difference between those who renounce Christ and those who simply fail him: repentance. Peters like me would do well to hold on to the words of St. Paul to Timothy:
“It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself."