Matthew 26:33-35 Peter declared to him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus told him, “Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.
When Peter said he was willing to die with the Lord, he expressed his honest intention and desire. We can see this as he “stretched out his hand and drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest, and cut off his ear.” He is not even afraid of following Jesus from afar by entering the courtyard. It was not a bluff, but he tried to show that he was intent on what he promised Jesus.
But then, his fervour left him when some servant girls later recognised him as one of Jesus’ followers, his zeal was changed into a vigorous denial of the Lord three times, even with an oath invoking a curse upon himself and swearing, “I do not know the man”.
When he came to his senses crying bitterly, Peter could say what Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans: “I do not understand my own actions, for I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. It is sin which dwells within me. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do the evil I do not want to do.”
Peter’s experience stands not alone. It is universal. It is the experience of our life! Being full of good intentions, we soon discover that they remain but intentions. When we decide to quit, e.g. smoking or drinking less, to exercise or walk more, to lose weight or eat less, we find out that it is not so easy. The same is true in our spiritual life. How often do we confess our sins, fully intent on not sinning again, only to have to confess the same sin during our next confession? This can lead to frustration, lack of self-confidence, taking away our joy, and even depression. Thus, after what Paul writes above, he cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me?”
He does not leave us with this cry of despair but points us to the solution that lifts us from negativity: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Therefore it says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. In him we know how to forbear, to have no anxiety but to make our requests known to God, who gives us peace” (Philippians 4:4-7)
Let us look at Jesus’ life. John baptised him in the Jordan River to show us that “he is not unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but that he has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning”. So we are told, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
The water of baptism reminds us that life is a passage through time. Time is a precious gift in life. Scripture says, “There is a season for everything and a time for every matter under heaven.” Time washes everything clean and heals wounds; many problems need time to find a solution. Time teaches us patience and endurance that things are not at our command; they don’t come instantly. We, on the other hand, want everything to happen immediately. “Lord, give me patience; I want it right now!” The precious things in life demand time and patience because nothing in life comes without learning, training, sweat, and tears. God told Adam, “In toil, you shall eat the fruits of life.” In other words, you don’t become a champion or a saint without sweat and tears!
No one is exempt from this, not even Jesus. In Gethsemane, He “prayed with loud cries and tears, even sweating blood.” (Hebrews 5:5, Luke 22:44). On the road to Emma′us he taught the two disciples, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and thus enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26) Take comfort, therefore, from Him! Peter desired to die for Jesus but had to learn it the hard way through his denial three times, i.e. meaning a lifetime. Thus he died for Him in Rome. When Jesus falls three times during the Stations of the Cross, we are taught the same truth: not all things can be changed, saying, “Where there is a will, there is a way”. However, real-life changes only come with time and bitter tears – never without God’s grace.
While much of the emphasis in education and teaching is on self-improvement, the spiritual or inner realm focuses on self-acceptance. In the latter, I have to ask, how much longer will I have to put up with the many weaknesses, attitudes and sins that cause me discomfort and shame?
A Christian is made one with Jesus in Baptism and Confirmation. This union with Him makes us “perfect, holy”, not because of what we achieve but what Jesus has done for us. In Paul’s words,” found in him, I do not have a righteousness of my own, based on law, but the righteousness from God” (Philippians 3:9). By Baptism and Confirmation, I gave him charge of my life. From then on, He will decide when and how to fulfil His promises. All He requires from us is to have “faith, hope and love”.
Jesus asks us to have faith, not in what we accomplish but in what He has done for us through His death and resurrection. He, the Lamb of God, takes away our sins and gives us new life. As it says, “Only those who through faith are righteous, shall live” (Romans 1:17). Then we shall live and be fully alive, having an abundance of joy, peace, love etc., for a dead tree has none of these fruits.
Jesus, who called us into fellowship with Himself, asks us to have hope that His promises will be fulfilled. No matter how often we have promised and subsequently have failed many times, our hope is in that “he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13). “Hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23)
Jesus asks us to abide in his love just as he abides in the Father’s love (John 15:9). This means that we maintain a good relationship with God, accepting and living by his word. It is through the life of Peter, Paul and David’s sins and failures that God teaches us. God calls David a man after his own heart. We all know his many sins of killing, adultery etc. but all the same, God delights in him. Why? David knew his weaknesses and sins. He acknowledged their gravity and repented sincerely with prayer and fasting. He also accepted with humility the punishment for his sins. We are more often inclined to make excuses, denying our sins or saying that these sins don’t matter. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord, our God, is one Lord;[and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”(Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
In this time of Holy Week, may we find great consolation. In our struggles, we often are discouraged and wonder whether God answers our prayers. However, God asks us to have faith in his promises and to forbear the sufferings of our life with sweat and tears. We may wonder what, then, we can offer Jesus. Unfortunately, in beholding Jesus on the cross, we cannot offer him but our shame and guilt, imitating the good criminal’s prayer: “We deserve the due reward of our deeds. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!”
Guido Gockel MHM