After the rooster

Matthew 26:31-35; 69-75 and John 21:15-19

Mar 2, 2015 by

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I’ve had a lot of chances to talk to Peter lately. He shows up in my life under various names. As Samantha, who abandoned her children a lifetime ago in favor of drugs. As Connor, who sits in a prison cell, his marriage and vocation both permanently shattered by the choice of a single day.

It’s a horrible feeling, knowing you’ve done the one thing you’ll never be able to take back. In your wildest nightmares, you never dreamed you’d end up here. Lying sleepless at night looking over your past in excruciating detail, you still can’t explain how it happened or imagine what you had been thinking. The worst has happened, and it’s a disaster entirely of your own making.

Someone pointed out to me recently that the hardest person to forgive is generally yourself. You can slowly let go of terrible things for the love of another person. You may even be able to accept that God, being God, somehow retains the miraculous power to forgive anything. But still long after judge and jury have put your case to rest, you stay in the courtroom, castigating and flogging yourself.

Why is forgiving ourselves so hard? We’ve seen other people fall before. We’ve even looked on them with a certain compassion or pity. But the truth is, deep down, we thought we were better, above those kinds of amateur mistakes. Peter doesn’t doubt that someone will deny Jesus when the going gets rough. He even has compassion for their weakness, poor fools. But he is Peter, Jesus’ “Rock.” There is no possible circumstance in which the weak one could be him.

Until it happens. Until Peter does the one worst thing he was sure he’d never do, and his entire world comes crashing down. Peter hasn’t only lost a friend — he’s lost his very sense of self. “Who am I, the Rock that melted under the first flare-up of heat? Who am I, the ‘premier disciple’ who didn’t even know his own Master’s name?” This is the deepest cut that makes forgiveness so darn difficult — the discovery that we are not, in fact, the moral super humans that we thought we were. The hardest pedestal to fall off is our own.

But here’s the thing — Jesus doesn’t share Peter’s shock and devastation. Because Jesus never shared any of Peter’s delusions about himself. When he called Peter “Rock,” Jesus was well aware even rocks have a cracking point. He knew Peter was a human with every mundane human weakness — an unoriginal sinner just like all the rest, with his own inner demons and appetite for death. Jesus knew this from the start, when he first called Peter’s name. Jesus knew it even clearer the second time around when he chose Peter again.

To forgive ourselves is quite simply to let go of our cherished delusion that we are some “better” brand of human than the rest. We are Peter — all of us — nothing more and nothing less. The strongest rock will break with pressure applied to just the right point. The purest heart has its dark corners that the Enemy exploits. We are none of us as good or whole as we would like to think. Our worst mistakes do not create this truth — they merely make us face it.

But how blessed are those in this world who are able to claim their true Peter story. They have a chance to discover what the rest of us, still perched precariously on our self-constructed pedestals, frequently miss: That they are known in their darkness and loved anyway. That they have been seen at their worst and still chosen. That they don’t have to hide or to feign perfect strength to be a rock upon which Christ can build a shelter for others. They are, of all people, truly free. Free to love more deeply for all that they have been forgiven. And free to hold out Good News to a whole world of Peters who are desperate for hope that is still life even after their own rooster sounds.

Meghan Larissa Good is pastor of Albany (Ore.) Mennonite Church. She writes at where this first appeared.

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