Jesus gets arrested and all the disciples are afraid. Peter is sitting incognito in a courtyard by a fire warming his hands as the crowd gathers to get a glimpse of Jesus, the accused. Peter listens to those who share their theories, the gossip, but Peter says absolutely nothing. Then he senses someone looking at him and he hears a woman say, “This man too was with Him”. It suddenly got very quiet. All eyes turned to him as they waited to hear his answer. His admission to being a follower of Jesus would put him in jeopardy. Everyone including the guards await Peter’s answer. Knowing that telling the truth could cost him his life Peter denies the woman’s claim. The crowd resumes the thread of conversation. Peter breathes a temporary sigh of relief. Two more times people in the crowd accused Peter of being a disciple of Jesus, and he denies again it.
And then he heard the cock crow just as Jesus had told him.
In another corner of the courtyard, Jesus is surrounded by the guards who arrested Him. As he awaits trial, the guards struck Him with their fists and spit in His face. The Bible tells us one of the guards grabbed a piece of cloth and covered Jesus’ eyes as the other guards took turns punching and making fun of Him. Above all of these insults and through all of this cruelty, Jesus hears Peter’s denials. If the guards’ blows wounded Jesus, how much more was he hurt by His friend Peter’s denials, one of His closest disciples? Peter was with him 24 x 7 – witnessed all his miracles and the first to recognize and publicly acknowledge that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. Peter was the disciple to whom Jesus said you are to be the rock and entrusted him with the Church. He was one for whom Christ prayed to be specially strengthened. Yet Peter denies knowing Jesus!
Peter was afraid, understandably so. All that he had hoped seemed to be crumbling before him. The one he believed to be the Messiah, the Savior of Israel, was now arrested. Jesus’ death seemed certain and with his death the end of Peter’s reason for living. Out of fear, Peter did what only hours before he swore, he would never do, denying his Master. The one who promised to go to prison and even to die with Jesus was now scurrying to protect himself. So, he denied his Lord, not once, but three times, just as Jesus had promised. Fear had overtaken Peter’s consciousness and conscience. Fear has the power to make all of us do or say that which we later regret.
Have you ever sensed that the Lord was urging you to do something for his sake, but then you chickened out because you were afraid? Have you known what it’s like to downplay the significance of your faith in some conversation because you were afraid of what people might think of you? Have you ever let fear keep you from experiencing the fullness of life in Christ?
After Peter’s third denial, Jesus turned and looked at Peter. Jesus’ face was bruised from the punches. Blood and tears were running down His cheeks. Peter saw Jesus’ beaten, tortured face. That gaze, so full of love even through the pain, opened Peter’s eyes to his sin and caused him to weep over his offense. This is the difference between Judas and Peter.
This same face gazes at us when we turn away from Jesus when we sin. Jesus does not look at us with accusation, condemnation, or hatred, but rather with love and compassion even in the suffering we have caused Him through our sins. The worst thing we can do is turn away from this face out of fear. Psalm 51 tells us a contrite heart you will not spurn. At the sacrament of reconciliation, we fall at the feet of Jesus and beg for His mercy. In trust we know we will receive His pardon and mercy.