The impetuous one goes to school
I’m drawn to the apostle Peter on this Tuesday of Holy Week. Peter, the impetuous one. “Master, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” We can call this another moment in the ongoing education of Peter, the Rock on which the Church is to be built. And it isn’t pretty. “Will you lay down your life for me?” Jesus asks.
“Amen, Amen I say to you, the cock will not crow until you deny me three times.”
Of all the instances when Peter jumps in where others fear to tread, this moment will teach him the most about himself. As predicted, he will turn away, hide his face, even flat-out lie at the moment when his Master needs him most. “I have never seen the man,” he says, putting in high relief the weakness to which none of us is immune.
But hope resides in what Peter learns about himself. In an episode at the end of the novel Barabbas, a fictionalized account of what happens to Barabbas after his release, Barabbas and the early Christian believers find themselves, through a series of circumstances, in prison together. The early Christians, who have not learned their lessons so well, cast hostile glances at Barabbas, the one who got off scot-free and who has struggled mightily to understand the Christian way. In the midst of that hostility, it is Peter who slowly rises to his feet and says:
“This is an unhappy man, and we have no right to condemn him. We ourselves are full of faults and shortcomings, and it is no credit to us that the Lord has taken pity on us notwithstanding.”
My margin notes say, “Yeah, Peter.” Is there any doubt that what prompted this deliberate, not impetuous, intervention was Peter’s profound encounter with his own weakness? This is a Rock of a different kind, one who through hard, humiliating experience comes to see that the only source of his strength is in the One who calls him and sanctifies him.