After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”
Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”
Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (NIV)
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and is being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” (NIV)
It is easy in the Lenten Season to become obsessed with perfection. We all try to live our holiest moments around the sacrifice of the cross and the miracle of the resurrection. We iron our Sunday bests, and we are careful of our manners.
But, despite our efforts, the perfection of Jesus Christ in the moment of His greatest glory often only accentuates our flaws. In reaching for perfection, we often fall short. We falter, and we let people down. That last point is often the hardest to get over. We all, at some point, have let down the people we care about most, and sometimes, we even do it on purpose.
Some of us have lied. Some of us have been manipulated. Some of us have given weak excuses to avoid a favor. And we have done all of this knowing in our hearts that we should be better than that. It can be difficult after such moments to look the person we failed in the eye again or even to look at ourselves in the mirror. Yet, even in this moment, we can look back to the sacrifice Christ made and gather wisdom because we are not alone in being so fallibly human. In fact, Peter struggled too, and he can show us the way to recover from betrayal, whether we are the ones betrayed or who have caused the betrayal.
The story is familiar to every Christian. Peter denies Christ at perhaps the most crucial moment of his life. Jesus is in prison, He awaits execution, and His greatest disciple, the man He has picked out of all humanity to found His church, denies Him, not once, but three times. And Peter does so knowingly. He does so emphatically, with curses, and he does so after vowing to the Lord that he would never deny Him.
Looked at so blankly, this feels like a moment from which no one can recover. To knowingly let down the savior of humanity is about as bad as it gets. Based off our own feelings at such moments, we might expect Peter to disappear forever into the disgrace of history. But his story goes on. Peter recovers and redoubles his faith and his courage. When he is tested again in Acts 4, he is filled with the Holy Spirit. He does not cower and weep and deny; instead, he proclaims Jesus Christ the Lord to “all the people of Israel.”
Peter’s story illustrates the power of forgiveness and redemption at the very heart of Christianity. No mistake is ever so bad it cannot be repented, and no one has ever made such a mistake that he or she cannot improve. No fall or failure is so great that we cannot be lifted up again. Peter went from the highest to the lowest, and he rose again back to the head of the church.
We see in Acts 4 exactly how redemption works. By being forgiven, Peter’s faith has been reinvigorated, and when the crisis comes again, he is ready to stand boldly by Jesus. This is crucial to the concept of Christianity, that true redemption requires a commitment to improve, to make ourselves better and stronger in our faith and in our actions.
We can never hope to be perfect, nor to live up to the Resurrection miracle in our own lives. But we can commit to picking ourselves up every time we fall and to walk more carefully every time, always with an eye on what is asked of us, and the power to be found in that divine forgiveness.