by Laurie Gudim
Even though he had promised to stand by him, Peter denied Jesus three times. I don’t think it was some sort of Godly premonition that told Jesus that he would do this. He simply knew Peter, knew who he was, knew his failings. None of the disciples were fighters. They were simple fellows, men of peace – impetuous sometimes, but not overly courageous. Jesus could predict their behavior simply because it sprang out of who they were.
When that cock crowed on the morning of Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter had to face himself. He was forced to really look at who he was and to accept that he had failed. Despite his sincere promises he had denied his friend and master three times. And if he could do it under those circumstances, after Jesus had warned him that he would, he could do it at any time – and he knew he would do it, despite his promises. In that moment he wept bitterly, because he knew who he truly was.
But there’s more to the story, of course. And this is where Peter’s true courage emerged. Peter did not hide or make excuses for his behavior. He looked at himself honestly. He gazed at his shadow. If he hadn’t, we wouldn’t know what he had done. He was able to embrace his own far less than perfect nature. Somehow he found his way into an understanding that he was loved for who he was, in his entirety. He forgave himself and made his way back into his community. He went on to do great things.
We all have flaws, weaknesses and blindnesses that are uniquely ours. Spiritual growth involves getting to know and love them as integral parts of us. Looking squarely at what we find reprehensible in ourselves, learning about it and not trying to live as though it weren’t there, we come to rely on God more deeply. Brother Lawrence, the kitchen monk, would say, “This is what I am like when I am left to myself.” The strength not to fail in his devotion to God came not from him but from God.
I am deeply grateful to Peter and to Brother Lawrence for showing me the way from my small self, which so self-importantly believes it can learn to perform perfectly, to that vast Oneness in which I and everyone else rest. This is God, who truly knows who I am. I hope I will have the courage to face and accept myself, and I hope that as I do my understanding will fuel my love and my compassion for everybody else. Such is the Way of Jesus.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
James Tissot: PETER WENT OUT AND WEPT BITTERLY, ILLUSTRATION FOR ‘THE LIFE OF CHRIST’, C.1886-94 public domain