“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written:“‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’… Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.”
What always strikes me about Peter in this story is that his insistence he will stick by Jesus – whatever everybody else does – is not wholly unfounded. When the soldiers come to arrest his Lord, Peter doesn’t quail and flee. Mark doesn’t tell us which disciple draws his sword and (ineptly) cuts off the ear of one of the armed crowd, but in John’s account, Simon Peter is the one, and Jesus tells him to stand down.
I keep this moment of courage, however misplaced, in mind when Peter later denies even knowing Jesus, whom in fact he loves so dearly. After the hot moment of crisis, later, in the creeping cold of dawn, unsure of what his Master wants from him, is when the betrayal comes. Peter’s confidence has drained away.
We do not get to choose the circumstances of the trial, or our frame of mind when it comes. If I’ve slept well, and feel close to God, and am braced for the challenge – maybe I do ok. But in the moment of desolation and confusion, our illusions about ourselves are stripped away, and we see clearly that it is Christ alone who never fails. All other ground is sinking sand.
Confidence is Peter’s superpower, and his downfall. Where is your confidence? In the words of the song, “I dare not trust the sweetest frame, / But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.” Do you need to repent of excessive self-confidence? Do you need reminding that it is Christ who is your confidence, who forgives your stumblings and backslidings, who restores you when you fall?
from the Book of Common Prayer
Almighty God, who alone can order the unruly wills and affections of sinful people: Grant to your people that they may love the thing which you command, and desire that which you promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Natasha Moore is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity, and the author of For the Love of God: How the church is better and worse than you ever imagined and The Pleasures of Pessimism.