Well, he did it out of fear.
He had seen so much, heard His words, taken in His lessons; he was told that the new beginning, the beginning of salvation would be built on him. He would be the rock. In today’s jargon, Peter was the man. Hey, Peter, you d’man!
And that was the problem.
Men get scared, even when they know they have been shown the presence of God in the world. Even when they know they are looking at the human manifestation of God. They get scared. So they deny what they know to be true. And what a truth! But, Peter got scared. He didn’t want anyone to know that he knew Him. And it happened regularly. Not once, not twice, but three times in an afternoon. Like clockwork, if I may.
That’s roughly ten to fifteen times a day, given the right opportunity and enough fear.
We don’t do any different, or at least many of us don’t do any different. How many times have I seen proof of the existence of God? How many prayers have been answered? From how many silly messes have my prayers delivered me? These are not rhetorical questions. The answer is: many.
How many times do I not say grace before I eat a meal, especially when I am in the company of non-family members? How many times do I stay silent when I hear people make statements contemptuous of Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular?
Then I retire to my home and wish I had said something. The fear gets to me. I’d be labeled a Jesus Freak. A member of the religious right. Someone hopelessly mired in superstition.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, or both, I know it is not superstition. I know the way to happiness and I know the strength Jesus can give all people. I know it. Just like Peter knew it. Yet, I go to church and pray–that’s easy enough. I’m surrounded by fellow Catholics. I celebrate Christmas and Easter and observe other Catholic religious days. That’s easy, too. Most everyone likes Christmas, and Easter has that Bunny and colored egg thing going on, so that’s easy, too. And non-Catholics don’t pay any attention to the other days. Oh, we look a bit odd on Ash Wednesday, our one big day of courage when we let people know we went to church on a day that is not Christmas or Easter or Sunday. Some day that has something to do with the beginning of Lent, you know that holiday time when we Catholics give up candy or something. We wear our badge of courage for a day.
I sometimes tire of “politically active” Catholics; I’m not knocking them, it’s just that I often find it a canard. A way to be catholic without being Catholic.
I heard an author on the radio, just today, hawking his book about his wonderful Catholic father who always believed in –, no, not Jesus, for heaven’s sake! According to the author, his father believed in social justice. And when asked a few questions about his father’s religious beliefs and his own religious beliefs, it all boiled down to a belief in–taking care of the poor, the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, those less fortunate than we. All of this is fine. However, please, can you first say WHY this is important? Who was Jesus?! Who is he to you, Mr. Author?
It was depressingly clear that the writer of the book, the son of the great Catholic, didn’t believe much in anything involving the Catholic faith. He believed in political activism–and selling his book. So, like Peter, he denied the real reason for our belief. He could talk politics, he could talk doing good, but he couldn’t talk Jesus. Too much at risk. Might not sell his book. Too afraid.
I think that is a cheat. I want a Catholic who says he believes in–Jesus Christ. THEN he can believe in the rest of whatever he believes in. I don’t want a Catholic who preaches Catholicism as Christianity as social justice–and who, when on national radio, acts just like Peter did when he was asked if he was a friend of Jesus.
I am no different in many ways, and that is why Peter is so important. I know so much about Jesus and God just as any believing Christian does. Yet I don’t want the pain; and, too often, we don’t want the pain and embarrassment of letting people know that, uh-oh, I’m a Jesus Freak. You can be a Yankees fanatic, a Red Sox fanatic, a Dallas Cowboy’s nut job or a Lakers Freak–that’s okay. But a Jesus Fan? A Jesus Freak? Well, that’s kind of, uh, freaky.
Scenario: you are in a job interview and you are at the point where things are going well, and things are getting a bit more relaxed; you know, toward the end of the interview that you know has gone well. Then the interviewer starts talking about sports, etc. Talks about his kids, maybe his son, what a rabid sports fan the little guy has become! Then he says, laughing, “Well, it could be worse, he could be one of those jesus freaks!” Come on now, laugh with the interviewer.
Of course, that is a false scenario because if you replied with anything remotely Christian in defense and did not get the job, there would be a chance of a lawsuit against the potential employer. So, no, that never happens. Not in a job interview.
Yet, similar things happen to us all the time. Don’t we see it every day? All the jeering in the media about the Church; all the planted stories designed to let us know that we believe in a superstition; all the glib cracks about the religious right, etc. How many of us fight back by simply saying, “I believe that Jesus Christ was our savior. There are many reasons for my belief. If you are interested I will gladly tell you; otherwise, that’s all I need to say.”
Remember the bully in the schoolyard? Everyone was afraid of him (or her–there are many types of bullies and many versions of bullying). No one dared cross the bully, either because of fear of reprisal, or fear of becoming unpopular, or fear of being labeled a weirdo.
Every time we do not take the opportunity to acknowledge our Lord, we are Peter; we are the scared kid in the schoolyard.
Peter went on to greatness, and great hardship. Ultimately, we revere him; and he teaches us a great and valuable lesson about ourselves. But, then, doesn’t everything associated with Jesus Christ do that?
So why is it so hard to show it?