Saturday, August 9, 2014
to cut ourselves far more slack
We all know this big man's lowest moment. It's recorded for us. Peter denied knowing Jesus or having anything to do with him, not once but three times. After being so certain in his own mind that he would never desert his master and best friend, it just happened impulsively as a self-protection instinct set in. It was never something Peter intended to do at all.
At least he went further than his fellow apostles, who didn't even join him around the fire at the high priest's court, but that was no comfort to Peter. He was a big, tough fisherman and his first accuser was a lowly servant girl, who merely said, 'This man was with him.' Two other people said the same thing, and each time Peter's knee-jerk reaction was the same. 'No, I wasn't. I've never seen him before. I don't know what you're talking about.'
It was straight after his third denial when the rooster crowed, just as Jesus said it would, and Jesus turned to look at Peter. The Bible often shows that things which may appear random and coincidental are, in fact, anticipated and woven into the fabric of a person's life. This was one of the most gut-wrenching moments for Peter, as he was brought, face-to-face with his own darker side, which he didn't even know existed. There was nothing he could do at that moment but hurry off, horrified and remorseful, to weep bitterly.
Later, we see the loving way in which the Resurrected Jesus addressed him on the beach. Jesus understands the true nature of a person's heart, and he gave Peter three chances to say, 'I love you, Lord,' to counterbalance those three, unfortunate, impulsive denials. You would think that might be it. Peter has learned his lesson. He becomes a head of the new church and is known by all as Peter the Rock, rather than Simon the Fisherman.
It isn't all. Years later, he's at the end of another rebuke, this time from the apostle Paul, who hadn't been around for near as long as Peter. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul explains that he opposed Peter to his face. It seems that Peter had been enjoying the company of several new Gentile believers, freely joining them to eat at the same table. When a delegation of Jewish believers was sent from James in Jerusalem, Peter withdrew from joining the Gentiles, evidently concerned about the impression he wanted to make on the Jews.
It would seem that Peter accepted this rebuke, although I'm sure he could tried justifying his actions by saying, 'It was just to begin with while I got them to understand,' or something like that. But this new knee-jerk reaction makes his real motivation evident again. It would seem that impression management and care about what people thought of him struck again. Although many of us would agree that we probably need to watch the basic weaknesses we're born with, it's astounding when you consider who this man was. Maybe I wouldn't have expected it from him, at this stage.
Peter was the guy who was always full of confidence. He had thousands of converts at his first sermon. He was rescued from prison by the spectacular arrival of an angel from heaven. He'd received some amazing revelations, including a radical one about acceptable food, which led him to understand God's true heart for the whole human race, including the Gentiles. He'd been God's instrument of several healing miracles, to the point that people put their ill friends in a position that Peter's shadow could touch them passing. No, I wouldn't have thought Peter would be the one to fall prone to such insecurity and shallow considerations any more. But we're told that he still did.
In the light of this, I'm wondering if we should cut ourselves, and our friends and relatives, far more slack than we do. We may be quick to say, 'How could my brother have done that same silly thing again?' or 'I thought I had more sense by now! I'm a moron.' But why should we expect more from ourselves than even Peter could deliver? Of course we're being made new every day, but it's a lifetime process and we are human. Instead of blaming ourselves when the same old thing crops up again, and taking it as proof that we were never any good to start with, it may be more helpful to remember that it also happened to somebody far more illustrious than us.
I'll aim to remember this in my parenting, my friendship, my writing, and also try to remember to extend the same grace to others.