“And Peter remembered the words Jesus had spoken, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:75 CSB)
Obviously, we cannot know what thoughts and emotions were going through Peter’s mind and heart as he stood there with the temple police warming himself by their fire. We do know that when Judas led the police to where Jesus was in order to arrest Him that Peter is the one who sprang into action and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Malchus. We also know that Jesus rebuked Peter. Again. We know that Peter, along with the other disciples, fled and scattered when the arrest took place. But Peter apparently showed up in the courtyard of the high priest’s home. Given the history and background, it would seem safe to conclude that fear was the dominant emotion running rampant through Peter, and it was this that led to his three denials.
Fear is the fruit of our self-preservation need, and, in turn, it feeds our self-preservation need. The need to survive is meshed with fear, which then drives our actions toward self-preservation. In itself, there is nothing wrong with this, since God created us with this capacity. Whatever dominates us is our master, however, and if fear is the main driving force of our lives and decisions and actions, it then makes us its servant and thereafter colors everything we do. When fear takes on this proportion in our hearts, we then, ironically, are following a self-centered life. That is what happened to Peter. At that point in his life, it was still all about him and his self-effort, his self-determination. He went outside (and metaphorically “outside” as well) and wept bitterly because he was so much weaker than he thought he was. His determination was insufficient, because fear dominated him.
The crucifixion, the resurrection, the post-resurrection encounters and instructions, and the coming of the Holy Spirit eventually led Peter beyond his fear and his own self-effort and self-determination by pointing him to a higher purpose, to a cause and a love that was worth dying for.
Understanding, commitment, and trust are the gateways that lead us beyond ourselves and our fears and our pride. Those are the keys that unlock the gate to the freedom to serve our Lord.
Lord, Turn the keys. Please. Amen.