I wrote last week about my family’s impromptu Maundy Thursday around our kitchen table (Pinot and Cheez-its). Needless to say, that family experience created quite a few “God Moments” to reflect on.
One particular conversation has stuck with me. We read the story of the Last Supper and Jesus’ arrest in the garden from Walt Wangerin’s “The Book of God: The Bible as a Novel.” We knew the story already… Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him that very night. Peter is adamant that he would never do such a thing! (Matthew 26:31-35) Of course, we find out just a few passages later that Jesus was right.
We read this section loudly, with passion; an attempt to exhibit the emotion felt by Peter in that moment! An excerpt from Wangerin’s book (page 581-582) follows. Jesus spoke to his disciples:
“The world will rejoice, and you will be sad. Worse, already tonight you will fall away from me. All of you, just as it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered abroad.”
“No!” Jesus recognized the shout immediately: Simon Peter. He had found something to say, and he was up on his knees to say it: “No, Lord!” Though they might, I will never fall away from you!”
Jesus wondered if this clamorous disciple knew how often his voice sounded like mere whining. “Simon, Simon,” he said, “Satan asked to have you. He wanted to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail.”
Simon thumped the table: “Lord, I’m ready to go to prison with you.”
“To prison?” said Jesus. “Oh, Peter, this very night before the first rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.”
But Simon raised his arm and declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you.”
My kids listened intently. (Hard not to – we were practically yelling Peter’s plea!) We talked about how Peter said these words, but then so quickly, so easily denied Jesus only hours later. My son was very thoughtful. He sat tall and considered his response. Then he declared, with passion I imagine was much like Peter’s, that he would never, ever do such a thing to Jesus! I could see in my son’s dark eyes that he was serious.
I asked: “Are you sure? There is nothing which could make you deny Jesus?” He confirmed. “Nothing. I would never do that!”
I sat back in my chair. It was late, our conversation had been deep. I could tell him he was wrong. It is not so simple! There will be a time when fear and doubt outweigh the courage to speak truth. There will be a moment when the poor or weak are cast aside, and he will fail to act; then he’d hear these words whispered in his heart:
“Then he [Jesus] will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ Matthew 25:45
But I didn’t say a word. I let his statement settle in the air around us, and then we moved on with the next part of our readings. The emotion he shared was sincere and I didn’t want to diminish its power – not on that night. Understanding our failure while simultaneously owning our claim as beloved children of God is part of my son’s own faith journey, not something for me to teach.
No matter our intentions, there will be moments where we “fail” as followers of Christ; where we deny the power of Christ on earth. God, Creator, knew this about us. Through the ultimate example of grace and sacrifice, God loves and redeems while knowing our past and future failures! Peter denied Jesus, but that didn’t change his crucial role as follower of Christ and leader of the early Christian church.
Like Peter, we will deny Jesus – in big or small, obvious or subtle ways. But what I’ve learned and continue to learn, and what my son will experience and reflect upon as his faith matures, is that this doesn’t change our truth! We are both Saint and Sinner, called to be ambassadors to Christ, forgiven and free within our own flaws to love like Christ and be servant to all!