Sunday, March 29, 2009

Don't be so hard on Peter

"'You are not one of his disciples, are you?' the girl at the door asked Peter. He replied, 'I am not.'" (John 18:17)

We live in a day and an age where there's a lot of confusion about what it means to be a Christian. Fact is, many people have good reason to steer clear of religion. The term "Christian" has been associated with so much hypocrisy and so may carnival acts and so much public indecency that I'm inclined to sympathize with those who turn away without a second thought.

Our job - our OPPORTUNITY - is to do such a great job of representing the authentic Christ that the cynicism loses its potency. Personally, I've started telling people I'm "A Jesus-follower." It's a moniker that circumnavigates some of the "knee-jerk" closing of minds and hearts.... Then I can explain more about what I mean when they look confused.

The disciple Peter made a big show of saying he wasn't a disciple of Jesus; it's right there in today's scripture. But I believe he gets a bum rap. For all his bull-in-a-china-shop passion, his inconsistency, his impulsiveness, and his tendency to just blurt things out, Peter turns out - in the long run - to be an extremely sensitive, thoughtful and courageous leader in the early church.

Yet this is the incident he's most famous for!

It seemed as if events had been accelerating in a downhill spiral for Christ's friends that week. At the beginning they must have all felt so "up", so on top of things; the Triumphal Entry into town was the crest of a new wave. Yet that wave quickly dashed against the rocks of disappointment, and their lives were spinning out of control.

Peter - especially - had always been so sure, so confident. He wore his heart on his sleeve. Up to this point Jesus had been just about immune to opposition. He sparred with his detractors, he healed the sick, he challenged convention, and he taught so convincingly that anything had seemed possible. Anything but this.

Jesus had alluded to the possibility, spoken indirectly, even told them flat out he would be killed. But it wasn't something they wanted to deal with and so they didn't really hear him. This man was going to redeem Israel! This man was their Messiah! This man was the Christ! Those facts didn't add up to anything near what Peter was experiencing the night Jesus was arrested, the night things started to unravel, that night in the high priest's courtyard.

Peter and all the others had still not managed to grasp the essential idea of Christ's teaching. Jesus was not about creating a "successful" movement according to the world's definition of the word success. Instead, he was intent on re-casting the meaning of words like "revolution", "freedom", and "victory."

Maybe, in that unique moment, Peter really wasn't one of Christ's disciples. Maybe he wasn't following Jesus when the girl asked the question. Maybe he was thinking "What can I do for a dead leader?" "How can I follow someone who is not going where I want to go?"

It's quite possible that Peter wasn't afraid... but instead he was disillusioned and confused. I've been there myself. I think we all have. And we already know the rest of the Easter story.

PRAYER: Loving God, please visit us with your spirit of assurance and encouragement. It is easy for us, still, to misunderstand your message. Amen.

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