About three years or so ago, I began my own Easter tradition. On every Easter day now, I watch Mel Gibson’s movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’. Now, I know that Mel Gibson seems to be a bit of a nut but that movie is, to me, an excellent telling of Jesus’ final hours as a human. Every time I watch it, I get something else out of it, something new and fresh. This time around was no different.
This time, I was Peter. I literally was sitting there, seeing my face on Peter’s body. Hearing my voice speaking Peter’s words. Peter reminds me so much of myself, which is probably why I love him so much and why his story rings true in my heart. So, I want to talk about Peter for a bit. I think you will see, as I did, some similarities.
Peter was, by far, the biggest loud mouth of all the disciples. At least according to biblical accounts, Peter seems to be discussed more than anyone else. John gets talked about a lot as well but Peter seems to have taken up the lion’s share of Jesus’ time. This is obvious for several reasons. Peter was clearly the leader of the band, so to speak. He was the mouthpiece for the disciples and the most dominant personality in the bunch.
What I love about Peter is his humanity. This is a dude that I get because he wore his heart on his sleeve and didn’t seem to be afraid to shoot his mouth off. He jumped before looking most of the time. I mean, look at what he did on the Sea of Galilee, jumping out of the boat to walk on the water to Jesus. That, in most of our estimations, is reckless. Another time, after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus appeared on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Peter recognized him, stripped down basically naked and jumped into the water and swam ashore. He was so excited, he didn’t even wait for the boat to get there.
Peter was the one who swore that he would follow Jesus, no matter what. To prison, even to death if necessary. When Peter said that is when Jesus hit him with the big one. “Peter, I love you man but you run your mouth too much. Before the sun rises tomorrow, you’re going to swear you don’t know me at least three times.” (Scott’s version of Jesus’ words)
Later that night, Peter was swinging a sword, trying to cut Malchus’ head off, defending the Master. I’m like Peter there, give me something to do. Give me a sword, give me somebody to smack, give me a mission. Peter was so eager with a sword in his hand. Aren’t we all?
Then, came the scene that hit me right between the running lights. Jesus has been “tried” before Caiphas. Have you seen the movie? The guards and people in the crowd are putting a beating on Jesus. Peter is struggling through the crowd and people are grabbing him, saying ‘Hey, I know you. You’re one of them.’ Peter, afraid for himself, denies Jesus. Three times. And the moment that wrecked Peter…Jesus looks right into Peter’s eyes.
Peter is undone. Weeping, he staggers away, only to come face to face with Mary, Jesus’ mother. She reaches to console him and he says something that even now rings in my ears. I heard my own voice say it.
“I am unworthy.”
I wept watching this, feeling it, being it. I am Peter. I have told Him I would follow, no matter what. I have told Him that I love Him. I’ve been in there swinging the sword for Him. And I have run away when it came time to claim Him. I have denied Him, not by word but by action. I have failed to act in His name when I should have. I have denied Him by not speaking out against some things, by not speaking out for some things. I have denied Him by not living out His love at times in my life. Haven’t we all?
Here’s the good news, though. Peter’s story doesn’t end there. When Jesus was raised and saw Peter again, did He get angry, did He chastise Peter? No, He loved Peter and gave Peter a new mission; “Feed my sheep.” Peter went on to become, as we know, one of, if not the greatest, leaders of the early church. And Peter did follow the Master in death. Peter was crucified for his refusal to deny Jesus.
My story doesn’t end with denial and failure either. Neither does yours. You have the love, mercy and forgiveness of a Savior that, above all else, loves you. He has forgiven us for our denial, our lack of courage, our failures. He has restored us, He has given us a new heart, a new mission:
To love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
And to love one another as He has loved us.