July 23, 2020
"She said to the bystanders, 'This man was with Jesus of Nazareth. Again [Peter] denied it with an oath, 'I do not know the man'" (Matthew 26:71-72). What would make you deny knowing your closest friend? What would it take to make you pretend you have no association someone you've followed, trusted, and admired for years? What could make you turn away from someone you had pledged to stand beside even unto death? This is exactly what Peter does in our Gospel passage today, denying three times that he knows Jesus even though he promised just moments earlier never to desert him (Matthew 26:33).
I think Peter was afraid. Fear is one of our most natural and yet most dangerous states of mind. Neurologically, fear registers in our amygdala, the part of our brain that manages basic survival instincts but lacks the capacity for deeper reflection. That means that when we're afraid, our capacity for critical thinking or calmly working toward a rational solution rapidly diminishes. Faced with the perceived urgency of a life-or-death decision, fear makes us seek self-preservation, regardless of whether it's right or wrong, faithful or unfaithful. With that in mind, it's hard to blame Peter, human as he was, for denying Jesus. It's unlikely that any of us, afraid that we too would be apprehended, tortured, even crucified, would have fared any better than Peter.
Scripture regularly commands us not to be afraid, and while Peter's denial of Jesus proves that this is easier said than done, we do see a more courageous Peter in the book of Acts. I think three things gave Peter the confidence to go in Acts where he couldn't go when Jesus was crucified. First, Peter had met the resurrected Jesus. He knew that death was not the end and thus no longer feared death. Second, he had been forgiven by Jesus for these three denials (John 20:15-19). Confidence in God's grace dissolves our fears of losing the esteem of others. Third, Peter had received the gift of the Holy Spirit, emboldening him with divine purpose, direction, and power. When we feel afraid today, let us ask Jesus to fill us with the hope of resurrection, the freedom of his grace, and the power his Spirit.
Grace and Peace,