October 16, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 22:54-62.
After arresting him they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest; Peter was following at a distance. They lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter sat down with them. When a maid saw him seated in the light, she looked intently at him and said, “This man too was with him.” But he denied it saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A short while later someone else saw him and said, “You too are one of them”; but Peter answered, “My friend, I am not.” About an hour later, still another insisted, “Assuredly, this man too was with him, for he also is a Galilean.” But Peter said “My friend, I do not know what you are talking about.” Just as he was saying this, the cock crowed, and the Lord turned and looked at Peter; and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” He went out and began to weep bitterly.
This is a wrenching scene. To deny the love of another. To be pierced by rejection. It makes my heart ache. It makes me think of the number of times I have denied the love of Jesus, the times I have turned away from him and willfully caved into my own selfishness or my cowardice. Luke is the only one of the gospel writers to tell us that Jesus turned to look at Peter as the cock crowed. I can picture the sadness in those eyes, the slumping of his body and spirit as he realized he had no one who would stand up for or stand with him in his agony. He had only God his Father. I think that’s the point. As much as I crave human affection and affirmation, in the end I will always be disappointed. I have only God whom I can rely upon consistently and totally.
As I think about Peter’s heartbreak, this passage reminds me of Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily meditation on Tuesday. He wrote, “Suffering is the necessary deep feeling of the human situation. If we don’t feel pain, suffering, human failure and weakness, we stand antiseptically apart from it, and remain numb and small….Some forms of suffering are necessary to that we can more fully know the human dilemma, so that we can even name our shadow self and confront it. Maybe evil itself has to be felt to understand its monstrosity, and to empathize with its victims….If there is nothing in your life to cry about, if there is nothing if your life to yell about, you must be out of touch. We must all feel and know the immense pain of this global humanity. Then we are no longer isolated, but a true member of the universal Body of Christ. Then we know God not from the outside but from the inside!” I think that Jesus knew what he was doing when he broke Peter’s heart. He knew that only in suffering so much pain, only in recognizing his own weakness and failing, could Peter be humbled so that he could enter into the pain of other people. Only then could Peter be the rock on which his church could be built.
Johnson in The Gospel of Luke agrees, “Jesus had foretold that ‘after Peter turned’ he would strengthen his brothers. Peter’s restoration begins immediately after his fall, when Jesus ‘turns toward him’ and gazes intently at him. As he is seen and known by the prophet, Peter remembers the prophet’s word and recognizes the truth about himself: his bitter tears are the start of repentance.” Likewise, it is only when I am able to accept my imperfections and failings, only when I am able to weep bitterly when I have hurt another or disappointed God yet again, that I am able to turn, to repent, and be reconciled to God. Only then that I can strengthen my brothers and sisters because I am able to empathize with their pain and grief. Only when I can say with Pope Francis that who I am is a sinner. That is the pathway to humility, to placing God and others before myself. To be a rock for others to stand upon.