What we can learn from a 2,000-year-old character

During Lent I decided to read ‘Characters of the Crucifixation’ by Joseph Fichtner.  It has short reflections on 15 characters who played a role in the Passion and Death of Jesus.  Peter’s story is especially revealing.

For me, Peter is simply every person.  We are never told if he knew about Jesus..all we are told in the Gospels is that he left his fishing and followed.  In fact, he left a large catch of fish behind indicating he was rather successful at his work.  I often think he went on a bigger fishing expedition and, as a result of that risk,  had bigger catches.  We know Peter went on to be the most intimate friend of Jesus and, ultimately, a great catcher of Jews and Gentiles to follow Christ.

Peter led a varied life, really.  Despite his intimacy with Jesus, his repeated profession of faith in Jesus and his being chosen as the founding rock of the church…Peter had his deep struggles in faithfulness.  I often reflect that at the most crucial, pivotal times in Jesus’ life Peter went missing.  Imagine the setting..Jesus in Gethsemane in tears, praying for His life, kneeling in anguish and his best friend falls asleep.  Peter must have known Jesus was in turmoil and arrest was imminent.  But no..Peter doesn’t keep watch nor pray for Jesus…he sleeps.  And when he awakens to find the soldiers arresting Jesus..he whips out his sword (wherever that came from) and slashes the ear off of a soldier.  A violent reaction that makes the situation worse and represents everything Jesus opposes.

Imagine Jesus arrested, ridiculed and burdened by an impossible cross, tried in public opinion, hanged with thieves and all for the love of God.  Peter – who had journeyed all the years with Jesus, claimed Him as friend and repeatedly committed Himself to discipleship – denies the friendship when Jesus is most alone.

How human of Peter.  Faced with insurmountable odds, violent circumstances, a confusing turn of events, an unknown future … Peter reacted as most of us would..scared.  Who wouldn’t try to protect themselves from the same fate as their friend?  Just as Peter was sure he could walk on water like Jesus – when it came to the follow through – he sank.

Fortunately for Peter and for each of us – the story doesn’t end there.  Sometimes it takes a bit of time to sort through the immediate circumstances and emotions we experience to discover what it is we must do or think.  Who of us hasn’t faced a unsettling situation..death, illness, disappointment, disillusionment?  Who of us hasn’t had to step back, realign our thoughts, pray for guidance and find our way back to Jesus?  Peter’s conversion experience is that Passion, and Death of Jesus.  Peter moves beyond the denial and his limitations to embrace the Resurrection.  And from there..Peter becomes the instrument of transformation in the world.

Lent is our conversion experience.  It is when we can run scared, reflect on our denials, re-center our heart and embrace our limitations.  We know the Resurrection is forthcoming and is our salvation.  It is this Lenten conversion that once again can fuel our transforming future.

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