“I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows this day, you will deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:34). We’re all familiar with Jesus’s foretelling of Peter’s denial, especially since we’ve only recently encountered it in the Easter readings. But lately, I’ve been mulling over these prophetic words and Peter’s actions.
Prior to Jesus telling Peter that he will deny him, Jesus says that he has prayed that Peter’s “faith may not fail” when “Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat” (Luke 22:31).
Encountering Satan’s temptation, Jesus prays that Peter will remain firm so that he can “strengthen your brothers.”
Peter, as we know, remains confident in his affirmation of his faith: “Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you” (Luke 22:33). And we
know how the story ends: following Jesus’s guards, Peter waits in the courtyard and betrays his beloved teacher.
I know there have been times when I, like Peter, have uttered denials: “I do not know him” or “I am not (one of the)” (Luke 22:57-58). Immediately, Catholic guilt sets in. Why must I be ashamed of asserting my faith? This is where Luke’s emphasis on Peter’s denial becomes useful to my own sense of shame: Jesus knows that we are to suffer temptation, and he prays that we have the strength to withstand it. But there’s acknowledgment in Peter’s own experience that there will be many who can’t withstand Satan.
Even though Peter betrayed Jesus, God forgave him and resurrected his faith. Ultimately, Peter fulfills Jesus’s request through repentance and, finally, “strengthens” the other disciples. He enters the empty tomb, and in Acts we learn that Peter becomes one of God’s instruments, preaching to the crowd on Pentecost.
Despite his initial failure, Peter eventually proclaims his faith and shares Jesus’ teachings. We should not forget that Peter, like Jesus, was crucified upside down at his own request, not believing himself worthy to be crucified the same way as his Savior.
So often we believe that our faith in God is unwavering – until we are tested. As a child, I remember reading stories of the martyrs and believing that I, too, could firmly assert my Catholic faith. But, like Peter, I’ve realized my own sense of over-confidence. In the academic world, I find myself constantly juggling the balancing act that is affirmation of one’s faith. But this happens not only in the career that I’ve pursued: we see evidence of this tension all around and within our social settings. How often do we find ourselves in Peter’s exact position? And how do we react?
In all things, we are led by Jesus’s example: prayer. When we are sifted like wheat, we too must turn our eyes toward the cross. We too must pray that if our cups cannot pass us by that we are given the strength to stand, to affirm, to attest – knowing, also, that should we fail, we have only to seek repentance and ask for God’s mercy. Out of our weakness, we too can be made strong.
Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.