4 min. to read.
It’s the 28th day of Lent. As a part of my practice this year, I’m reading Brian Zahnd’s Lent devotional, The Unvarnished Jesus. I journal on the scripture he’s selected and his reflection, then I post daily (or near-daily) meditations that emerge.
The scripture today is Matthew 26:69-75, Peter’s denial of Jesus.
In the garden, the armed men arrested Jesus and took him to the high priest’s house. Earlier, Peter had made a vow that he would never desert Jesus. When the armed men appeared, he jumped to Jesus’ defense with his sword. Now, he followed. Maybe Peter wanted to stay close, to see what was happening. Maybe he hoped he could intervene in some way.
Peter found himself in a courtyard surrounded by enemies and no way to help. That’s when a servant girl asked if he was with Jesus. His accent gave him away. He denied. Others picked up the accusation. He denied again. The challenge grew stronger. He swore. Then the rooster crowed.
I relate so deeply to Peter. I’ve made grave declarations of commitment, promises to stick with someone, or to be a warrior for a cause, or to give my all. Those promises seemed right at the time, even righteous. But I could not see how far beyond my capacity they were. In my certainty, I couldn’t even see how my motives were mixed. Zeal and lack of self-awareness put me in a position where I would inevitably fall short, fail, even betray. The scripture ends simply: “He went out and wept bitterly.”
I’ve been there. Maybe you have, too?
Being human means overstepping. It often means saying things that haven’t been carefully considered. It also means letting down people we love. This is true of me. It’s true of you. It’s true of everyone. Only we don’t act like it.
We hold the gavel of judgment over the heads of those around us. We measure every word for intent and malice. This tendency is particularly destructive on social media. Limited character count, no facial expression, and lack of connection allow us to make our declarations with even less nuance than we might in person. We tend to hear the declarations of others in the worst possible light.
In our relationship with others this leads to judgement, alienation, and exclusion. In our relationships with our selves it leads to shame. In our relationship with God, it leads to separation and fear.
We call this episode in Peter’s life his denial. That makes sense because he was denying his relationship with Jesus. But that word runs deeper. When Peter made those declarations of loyalty, he was living in denial of his humanity, his weakness, and the uncertainty of life. He was living in denial of his inability to control the outcome of circumstances, even those that involved him! When he cursed and swore to disclaim connection to Jesus, he was living in denial of his heart and his relationship with a friend. He was even in denial about Jesus’ own prediction of these terrible events.
In the end, Jesus forgave and reinstated Peter, releasing him from his shame, and helping him emerge from a life of denial. Jesus can do the same for us.
Even so, it might serve us to keep Peter in mind. Maybe we should be a bit more mindful of our own limitations when we make righteous declarations and less judgmental of the limitations and over-statements of others.
Lent invites us to be compassionate to ourselves and others. This way is life.