October 12, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I’m taking the good news from Matthew 10:32-33.
“Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”
In Luke’s gospel the reference is to the angels of God instead of Jesus’ heavenly Father. Jesus also refers to acknowledgment of him as the Son of Man. There is similarity to passages in Mark and Luke wherein Jesus said that whoever is ashamed of him and his words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in the glory of the Father and the holy angels. The message is the same in all: our reaction or response to Jesus will determine our judgment in the future.
So, how does this apply to Peter’s denial? Jesus did not deny him before God. And what happens if Jesus denies you before his Father? The scriptures are full of questions and paradoxes such as this for me. It reminds me that the neither the gospels nor the rest of the Bible is a self-help manual. It doesn’t tell me that if I do and don’t do any number of things, I’ll be guaranteed anything. The only thing that is constant is God’s love for His people through the manifestation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
That’s basically what Jesus was telling his disciples as he was sending them off the spread his message and act in his name. He was preparing them for the travails ahead and girding them with courage. He even sternly warns them to stand up for him, not to deny him in order to protect themselves, to shield themselves from danger, or they would suffer the consequences. There weren’t any guarantees of acceptance, of success, of acclaim or glory. The only sure thing was that God treasured them and because of that constant love they had nothing to fear.
So, what if one of them failed, succumbed to fear, and denied Jesus. What is he wasn’t able to rise above his human weakness, his clinging, desperate desire for life in this world? What then? What about Peter? To deny means to disown. In fact, that’s the word used in the New Jerusalem Bible translation. Would Jesus tell his Father that he disowns me if I would deny him under dire circumstances? Countless martyrs have not denied him, but would I have their courage? I don’t think so.
I think I’m in the same boat with Peter. Jesus knew his heart, his greatness and his human weaknesses. Jesus used Peter’s gifts and forgave his failings. That’s what he does with each one of us. After all these months of reading the gospels a few verses at a time, listening to Jesus speak to me, and sorting out his meaning for me, I’ve come to realize there is only one constant in my life. That is God’s unconditioned and unconditional love for me. I know now as I haven’t before that Jesus will never deny me, no matter what I may say or do under stress. He knows my heart as he knew the answer to his question to Peter after the resurrection: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” With Peter I can reply, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”