by Sarah Brock
AM Psalm 106:1-18 PM Psalm 106:19-48
1 Samuel 10:17-27; Acts 7:44-8:1a Luke 22:52-62
Peter denied Jesus. Three times, Peter denied Jesus. I can only imagine the pain and indignity that Jesus must have felt. Peter, one of the first disciples to be called, was with Jesus throughout his entire ministry. He was there to witness Jesus healing people, including Peter’s mother-in-law; he was there to hear Jesus teach; he witnessed Jesus walk on water; he went up the mountain and witnessed the transfiguration; he was chosen to stand watch while Jesus prayed in Gethsemane.
Peter makes mistakes, learned, fell asleep, and screwed up over and over again. Peter is the disciple who confesses Jesus as the Christ, then only moments later Jesus rebukes him for missing the point. Now, Jesus is at one of his lowest points: betrayed; mocked and derided; scourged and beaten; and, after everything they have been through together, denied by his own disciple. Denied by the very person who promised to stand by him until the end. Utterly alone and deserted.
And yet, through all of this, Jesus loves Peter. Jesus continues to invite Peter back into relationship; choosing Peter to witness his transfiguration; choosing Peter to stand watch in Gethsemane; choosing Peter to be the rock upon which he would build his church. Jesus chooses to stand by Peter.
Upon realizing what he has done, that he has acted exactly as Jesus predicted, that he has failed to keep the promise he made to stand by Jesus, Peter weeps. He weeps at his failure to be faithful to the relationship. Peter not only knows Jesus, but he knows Jesus’ true identity. He has denied not only a human relationship to the man, but also his relationship to the divine. And all he can do is weep; tears of sorrow and repentance.
But, I have to wonder if his tears are also a response to an overwhelming sense of love and forgiveness. Peter’s memory of the words of Jesus also offers him hope. Jesus knew that Peter would deny him, even though Peter was determined to remain faithful. Yet, even with this knowledge Jesus continues to love Peter and Peter knows this. In remembering the words of Jesus, Peter is also remembering their journey together to Gethsemane. Of all the disciples Jesus could have chosen to join him in his last moments of freedom, he still picks Peter. Peter is remembering how even then he failed to remain awake, such a simple request. But Jesus forgives his inadequacy in the garden and he forgives Peter’s inadequacy in the courtyard. And so, Peter weeps. He weeps out his sorrow, his guilt, his repentance, and his relief. Relief that comes from knowing that Jesus has already forgiven him.
Relief that I have also felt. Relief that I have also wept. I know that I deny Jesus all the time. I deny Jesus when I hesitate to talk about faith with someone who might not share the same beliefs, wondering if I will lose their respect. I deny Jesus when I walk away from a friend that needs to talk because I am just too busy to stop for a moment and really listen. I deny Jesus every time I walk by someone who is poor or fail to serve my neighbor or participate in systemic injustice.
How do you deny Jesus?
Do you weep tears of relief or tears of bitterness? Or, maybe, a little of both?
Sarah Brock is a postulant in the Diocese of Massachusetts and lives in Boston.
Image Credit: Wikimedia