The Year of Saints Peter and Paul: Pt 1 St Peter – Redemption After Denial

Have you ever felt that your depth of sin, shame or guilt is too great for redemption and salvation by grace?
by Suze Forster | Source: Catholic.net

As Christians we feel not only the great weight of our apostolic duty to our fellow man but the even weightier scrutiny of our fellow man, both those who believe and look to our example for hope and right judgment, and those who do not believe and are examining our lives, words and deeds in an effort to discern their own spiritual wanting. We carry the hopelessly misguided notion that we must be paragons of virtue, titans of spiritual indomitability and perfect in our Christlikeness so as not to bring our beliefs and our Lord into disrepute. We begin to expect that we must be superhuman in order to do proper justice to our Creator who has commissioned us to go into the world to bring the good news of His Word. 

It is futile, a folly, to think that we can ever adequately represent the Most High Holy Lord of all. 

That is why He sent His only begotten Son who chose 12 men to represent Him after He returned to His Father in Heaven. 

Every thought, deed and action of these men is a lesson for us in humbly accepting our unworthiness to stand before God or sufficiently represent Him, but through the events of their lives He provides us with something more valuable than a true understanding of our sinfulness – He provides us with innumerable examples of His grace. For in every one of their failings (to which each and every one of us can relate in our own struggles and stumblings), Jesus was given a magnificent opportunity to demonstrate mercy, compassion and grace. 

Apostles were ordinary men tasked with an extraordinary commission. Those chosen by Jesus to follow him in discipleship were not extraordinary men in their own right or by the world’s standards. Fishermen. Tax collectors. Everyday people. Not great orators. Not highly connected, powerful politicians. Not prestigious religious leaders. Just ordinary, everyday people. People with flaws and weaknesses, with blemished characters and imperfections of the heart and soul. People like you and I. They were ordinary men tasked with an extraordinary commission. Often we feel that we don’t measure up to what our limited and earthly perceptions of Jesus’ standard must be in order to carry our His work. He does not choose us for our worldly resources but for our resourcefulness coupled with faith, obedience and humility. We are not expected to be perfect before we can carry out His work – it is utterly impossible.  But we draw closer to the perfection He desires for us, for which He originally intended us, when we submit to Him and offer up our lives to the discharge of His work. 

Jesus knows what we will do even before we do it. The saying goes: the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. It is only too true. We are eternally optimistic creatures by design, by virtue of the natural optimism imprinted on our hearts by our Lord and God for the purpose of glorifying His name and exulting in the joy of living in the presence of our Creator and Redeemer. But often we fail in the commission of our good intentions, often we fall short of our own excessive expectations. So often our convictions, as solid as bedrock when untested, prove to be as shifting as sand when tried. And our horror is amplified – not only are we shocked by our own transgressions and sins but we are plunged doubly into despair when we contemplate Jesus’ reaction to our many and frequent falls from grace. But in this we are gravely mistaken. For Jesus disappointment lasts less than the echo of a moment and His forgiveness is more immediate than anything measurable in the sluggish progression of time in its earthly passage as we know it when presented with a repentant and contrite heart. We limit our experience of His grace and mercy when we fail to accept His forgiveness (from which we must swiftly advance from guilt and remorse to a more appropriate attitude of meekness, thanksgiving, and renewed devotion). For Jesus knows what we are going to do long before we do it – what He is observing closely (more closely than the transgression itself) is our response to our failure to Him. Do we become self-obsessed by dwelling in self-loathing and despair? Or do we immediately repent and seek forgiveness, quickly picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and stepping out of our iniquity and back into the cleansing light of grace? 

In all things Jesus’ name is glorified – especially in our weaknesses. Paul wrote of his conversation with Jesus, ‘Three times I pleaded with my Lord to take it [the ‘thorn in my flesh’ – his undisclosed weakness] away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.’ (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). Paul wrote it but long before this, Peter lived it. Peter, the greatest amongst the apostles and the founder of the Roman Catholic Church – the first Pope – fell beyond the depths of sin and arose to surpass the heights of grace. 

Jesus Predicts Peter's Denial (Matthew 26:31-35)
 31Then Jesus told them, "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:

 "'I will strike the shepherd,
  and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'[c]
 

  32But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee."
 33Peter replied, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will."
 34"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times."
 35But Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the other disciples said the same.

Peter Disowns Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75)
 69Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. "You also were with Jesus of Galilee ," she said.
 70But he denied it before them all. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said.
 71Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, "This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth."
 72He denied it again, with an oath: "I don't know the man!"
 73After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, "Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away."
 74Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!"
 Immediately a rooster crowed. 75Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: "Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Fall from grace. Who can possibly imagine the inextinguishable anguish Peter must have experienced when at the very moment of their testing in the fires of faith, his noble intentions and unyielding convictions crumbled like chalk crushed in a fist? His own horror must have all but immobilized and traumatized him. Imagine the incomprehensible depths of sorrow to which he plummeted when “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times”.’ (Luke 22:61). Even a fall from the greatest of all heights is redeemable, and ultimately an opportunity to experience the wonder of grace and the everlasting love of Jesus. Did Jesus look upon Peter in accusation, in condemnation? No! Jesus knew what he would do even before Peter did. Jesus is love personified.

He looked upon Peter with instantaneous love, mercy and forgiveness. In the second immediately following Peter’s greatest fall, Jesus lifted him up by grace. In a strange way, Peter would have been more comforted had Jesus looked upon him with hostility and rejection and vilification for it would have, to his earthly understanding, been a fitting response to his betrayal. How crushed he must have been in spirit to have looked into Jesus’ eyes to find they were filled with love, acceptance, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and grace! 

The barbed hook of projection. When we are horrified at our own deeds or thoughts or intentions, we often project our disappointment in ourselves and self-loathing onto Jesus, convinced that He too must be as horrified at us as we are with ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth. Peter lived this truth and Jesus is the eternal promise of it. What fills the story of Peter’s fall from grace with incomprehensible hope is his response to his disgrace: he picked himself up and made his way back to his Savior through repentance, forgiveness and grace.

Redemptive prayer. How are we restored back to our holy congress with Jesus when we fall so far we grapple even to forgive ourselves? Through swift repentance, as swift as Jesus’ forgiveness. When in humility and contrition we acknowledge and repent of our sins, we open a pathway to redemption through prayer, remembering always that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:38-39). But contrition alone is not enough. We must accept Jesus’ forgiveness, truly allow it to wash away our sins, and rededicate ourselves and our lives, works, and words to His glorification and the advancement of His kingdom. Do this, even though you feel guilt, despair, and a lowliness from which there appears to be no return, and He will do the rest. It is precisely at this point that the Holy Spirit is animated within us, moving us by the Spirit to accept forgiveness and enter into grace. You don’t have to do anything or ‘feel’ a certain way, the dynamism of the Holy Spirit is not dependent upon any human action or state of mind – only on your receptivity. It is then that grace is fulfilled in you. 

Thanksgiving and new life in the Spirit. Redemption remains an inert pardon, an empty absolution if unaccompanied by self-forgiveness. The ransom for our sins was bought at the moment of death on the Cross at Calvary but, like Jesus, our resurrection from sin is static and insensible if we remain locked in guilt and shame and unresponsive to the liberating grace of Christ’s cleansing blood. ‘10Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"  11"No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:10-11). So what follows from this acceptance of redemption. Redemption does not begin and end with acceptance of such. We must give thanks to God with all our heart, all our mind and all of our strength – it is the right and proper response to the everlasting love promised by Jesus and fulfilled in our deliverance from sin back to communion with Him. Immediately following this must be action - the affirmation of our intention to fight sin and temptation, and immediate recourse to the evangelical witness of the Word and by making an example of His righteousness, mercy and redemptive love by testifying to our faith and His glory through the example of our lives. 

In our greatest weakness, in our darkest hour, Jesus’ glory shines brightest of all. His grace is sufficient for us all. In our weakness His power is made perfect. Choose not to hate yourself when you fall, but rather to delight in the perfection of Jesus’ power through your weakness. Repent, permit the Holy Spirit to perform the miracle and the mystery of redemption through grace in you, give thanks to Him who lifted you out of your sin and washed you clean with His blood, and go back into the world renewed, restored and revived, ready to receive His instruction, to continue to carry out His work. We are all Peters. There is no depth to which we can plummet from which He cannot raise us up. 

May Jesus bless you and keep you and shower you with everlasting love all the days of your life. Amen.

 

 



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