On Being Simon Peter

When I was in high school, we had “visiting evangelists/prophets” that would come into our church for revival Sundays – or whole weekends. Because this was a very emotional time, I would always find myself at the altar at the end of such services: with hands lifted high, tears in my eyes, praying for God’s forgiveness for whatever misdeeds I had committed recently. On one such occasion, the visiting evangelist came up to me, put his hand on my chest, and announced that I had “the heart of Simon Peter.”

I reflect on that moment a lot. It was formative for me in my spiritual upbringing. When I was younger, it was a point of pride for me that someone had recognized my closeness to Jesus.

Of course, the legacy and the heart of Simon Peter is a bit more complicated than that.

I have been given more reason than usual to reflect on that experience, those words, this year. Our church is putting on a production called “Twelve Seats at the Table.” It’s a dramatic interpretation of the thoughts of the twelve disciples after Jesus announces that one of them will betray Him. And, I was asked to be Simon Peter.

Naturally, the director had no idea that I had once been compared to the disciple as a young man, nor that so much of my spiritual formation has been centered around the idea that I have the “heart of Peter.” I didn’t tell him. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I told anyone, because it’s just been the background noise of my Christian experience. But, as I have delivered the monologue – in rehearsals and last night for our first performance – it has really struck home how much Peter’s story is my story. In fact, Peter’s story might be all of our stories.

How could a man who loved Jesus so faithfully turn so faithless? How could a man who confessed Him so strongly as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” turn and deny ever knowing Him when his back was to the wall? How could a man who followed Him so closely misunderstand Him so completely?

It’s easy to view this story through the lens of two thousand years of history and assume that we would have done things differently. It’s easy to scorn Peter for loving his safety far more than he loved Jesus. But, how many times have I denied Jesus with my lips, just because it became to hard to believe in Him? How many times have I denied knowing Him, because the world didn’t make sense – or because I was grieving, or because I was angry, or because I was afraid?

Worse, how many times have I denied Him with my life?

Simon Peter was a man of bold promises and rash action. I sympathize, because I am such a man.

Are we all? On this day of all days – on this Good Friday – do we make bold promises to Jesus and the world about our faithfulness, our steadfastness, our willingness to follow Him even unto death? Do we do this, and then deny ever knowing Him only a few hours later? Do we deny Him with our lips, or do we confess Him as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” with our lips and then deny Him with our lives – both in our personal lives and in the life of our nation? Do we deny Him by denying the homeless person on the side of the road eye contact, the money we have in our wallet, or the dignity of a fellow person? Do we deny Him by waving our swords (or Tomahawk missiles, or 21,600 pound bombs) in the face of our enemies when He has told us to put them away?

Do we tell others that we “don’t know Him” by worshiping on Sunday and being uncharitable on Monday? Do we say “I don’t know the man!” when we wear a cross around our necks but scream our disdain at people of color, at immigrants, at refugees, at LGBT persons, at all the other marginalized and oppressed in our society and around the world?

And, if we do, do we even bother to “weep bitterly” when we realize what we’ve done?

When I was young, I thought that being Simon Peter was about being faithful to Jesus.

Later, I thought that being Simon Peter was about denying Him when it mattered most.

Now, I understand that being Simon Peter is about constant, passionate repentance for failing Him.

Will we all repent for our denial?

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