Hello, Peter! I have been so blessed by these visits. I know that my faith in Jesus has grown by leaps and bounds because of our talks.
I have told you, my friend, that my faith is also fed also by our times together. It is good to see you again.
Peter, you figure so prominently in the stories that I hear of Jesus. I have heard one story that I just could not bring myself to mention. I have postponed asking week after week. I still hesitate to …
You have heard that I denied our Lord on the very night that he was betrayed and arrested.
Well, yes, that is the story that I have struggled to ask you about.
I appreciate your concern and understand how difficult that could be. That night was more than 30 years ago and I have had to discuss what took place with many people over those years. Obviously, I am not proud of my behavior that night, but I have come to know a deep sense of our Lord’s forgiveness for that terrible denying of him.
So, you are able to talk about it a bit?
Yes, and hopefully, what I have to share with you will help you to find your way when fear seeks to control how you behave in certain situations.
It was a special night to be with Jesus. The Passover had come. We were together like a family. There were amazing moments as we ate together.
Early on, Jesus took time to come around to each of us and wash our feet! Our feet! I just could not let him do it. I told him not to do it. But, Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” This surprised me. And so, I replied, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” He said, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.” It was a powerful moment. He then said that we were clean, but not all of us. We had no idea then what that meant, but realized later that he was referring to Judas. I was relieved and renewed in that washing.
We had the meal together. He shared at the end of that festival meal bread and wine with us and encouraged us to eat and drink in his remembrance. He actually said as he handed out the bread, “This is my body.” He actually said as he handed out the wine, “This is my blood.” The celebration of this meal has now become a key part of our gatherings as we worship. It is the Eucharist – the Thanksgiving – for all that our Lord accomplished in giving his body and his blood for us. I find it to have a unique aspect of his presence every time I am part of that celebration.
We knew that this was a special time with Jesus, but then he came out with a statement that shook us. “You will all become deserters because of me this night!” He quoted scripture about the shepherd being stricken and the sheep being scattered. He also said that he would be raised up and see us again. We didn’t, we couldn’t, put all of this together.
All that I could hear was that we were going to run if things got difficult. I said, “Though all become deserters of you, I will not desert you.” That was the Simon Peter of that day – bold with a certain confident arrogance that was beyond what I could understand or back up. I just would blurt out my thoughts of the moment!
Jesus came back at me with, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” I was shocked and a little embarrassed and came right back at Jesus to say, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And, my boldness fired up the others to say something similar.
So far, it seems like you were a leader who was ready to stand with Jesus to the end. What changed?
Well, we left that room and went to the Garden of Gethsemane. We talked along the way, but when we arrived in the garden, Jesus drew me, James and John away from the others. This was not unusual. He often invited the three of us into a more private conversation.
He revealed how deeply troubled he was. We really had never seen him like this. He asked us to stay awake with him in this time and he went a little farther from us. Jesus threw himself to the ground and prayed. He asked the Father that the cup that he was about to sup might be taken from him. Yet, he then said, “not what I want, but what you want.”
We were so drowsy. He came over to us after a while and found us sleeping. It upset him. He encouraged us to pray that we would have the strength to face what was ahead. Yet, he said, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He, of course, was right. We could not focus on prayer. We were just so tired by that time.
Jesus drew away from us again and prayed. He came back and woke us. He went back to pray again. When he came back to us a third time – again sleeping – he announced that his hour for betrayal was at hand.
A large mob with swords and clubs had come. Judas was near the front with some of the chief priests and elders. It was very scary. Judas came up to Jesus and kissed him. This seemed to be the sign that the group was looking for and began to muscle in to grab Jesus. I felt that I could not let that happen. I had access to a sword and I swung it at one of the people in the mob and I cut off his ear. Jesus spoke strongly saying to put the sword away. He said that this was part of the fulfillment of scripture. He then touched the ear of the man and healed him.
You still had done nothing that seems to be anything but brave.
I hear that, but you cannot imagine how things were. We had no control. Jesus had been so upset and had said so many cryptic things about what was ahead. Judas, one of us, betrayed our Lord in our very presence. The mob was ready to grab us all and take us under their control. I tried to respond and Jesus showed me that it was not what he wanted. We did not know what to do and we were very afraid.
So, it happened in that moment as Jesus had predicted. We ran. We just sought to escape and try to be safe. It was horrible.
I can see how you would feel guilty about deserting Jesus, but it was no different than the other 10. Judas was the real betrayer in all that took place.
Yes, but the story goes on. I wanted to see what was happening. I went into Jerusalem and even the Temple area. I wasn’t alone. John was with me. He actually had some contacts there that got us into the area near where they were keeping Jesus. At the gate, the person there asked me if I was one of the followers of Jesus of Galilee. It seemed important to get through and so I denied that I was. At that moment it did not occur to me that I had just denied the Lord for the first time that evening.
The night was cool. Once inside the courtyard, I saw some people around a stove with coals. I moved close to them. It was a poor decision.
One of the women there looked at me and said, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth!” The charge surprised me. Fear gripped me. With an oath I said, “I do not know the man!” But, with that statement my accent gave me away to another who also accused me of being a follower. Again, I said as strongly as I could, “I do not know the man!” As it came out of my mouth, I could hear in the distance that a cock was crowing. I knew that Jesus was right about me. I denied him three times. I just left there and wept and wept and wept.
That must have been awful in so many ways!
Yes. All of my bravado was false. I could not back it up as fear rose within me. That experience taught me a lot about fear. The more that I have worked through that night, the more I have learned. Fear is one thing, but it also taught me about faith and even a bit about love.
You see, much later, after Jesus arose, he met us at the Sea of Galilee. It was a blessed time very near to his ascension into heaven. In the midst of the conversations, Jesus turned to me and three times in a row he asked me if I loved him. Each time I said, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Each time Jesus commanded me to feed and tend his sheep, his lambs.
Three times. It touched me and changed me. Jesus was making it clear that he wanted me to be one who was to lead his followers. I was forgiven! He would inspire me to bring nourishment to his disciples.
Jesus went on to say to me, “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”
I have grown old, my friend. That day is drawing near for me.
But, these years of ministry have brought fearful situations into my life again and again. I have faced them differently. My faith in Jesus and my love for him have allowed me to stay calm. They have allowed me to think clearly. They have assured me that my walk in Jesus is always more important than my life.
Thus, jail sentences, angry crowds, aggressive opponents have all been faced. I am still here. I have been a faithful witness – sinner that I am – to the grace and love of Jesus.
I am so new to all of this. I hope that I can have that courage that you now have. I hope that I can overcome any fears that arise.
It is always Jesus, my friend. Keep your focus upon him. The rest takes care of itself. Fears have a tendency to push that focus upon the troubles at hand. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Use the disciplines that we have discussed here. Focus on the stories of Jesus, be renewed in the Eucharist and remember your baptism, pray regularly, stay connected to your friends in the faith, and then step out to witness as the Holy Spirit leads you. You will be fine.
And, never forget that the grace and love that Jesus brings includes a powerful forgiveness for the fact that we still find ourselves in battles with our own sinfulness every day.
I will remember this Peter and treasure your willingness to share these stories of your struggles. Maybe next time we can even talk about the cross itself.
The Lord willing, my friend, that will be our next conversation. Go in peace.
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER FOR PERSONAL CONTEMPLATION OR GROUP STUDY:
- What are your thoughts about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples – including the interaction with Peter and even the washing of the feet of Judas? How would you feel about Jesus washing your feet?
- If you were to think about the key important experiences of your ongoing growth and renewal in your faith, where would the Eucharist lie in the list of those experiences?
- What is the most meaningful aspect of the Eucharist for you as you celebrate it?
- Fear is a key aspect of this visit with Peter. Fear changed Peter’s ability to be the person that he wanted to be in that horrible context. He was afraid. Have you instances in your life where fear or its related feeling, anxiety, changed your behavior in ways that you see to be less than what you would want to be?
- Fear is a powerful negative motivation. Often, things to be feared are lifted up in advertising, politics and religion to move people toward something. It is also important to realize that people who have been honored for their courage have said that it is not that they did not feel fear, it was just that they chose to not let it change their next actions. In I John 4:18 it says that “perfect love casts out fear.” Peter talked about his fear that night. He later stated that his faith in Jesus and his love for Jesus helped him in later experiences to overcome his fears. How do you overcome your fears in life?
- Peter was deeply moved by his interaction with the risen Lord where he was led to say three times that he loved Jesus. Forgiveness in Christ is a powerful thing. How have you experienced your forgiveness? Have there been key moments in your life where forgiveness has made a powerful difference in your life journey?