Last night I participated in a re-enactment of our Lord’s passion and resurrection for my home Parish. Afterwards, I was asked a very poignant question by an 11 year old family friend: “why did all of Jesus’ friends run away?” Having just played the role of Peter, I can honestly say that throughout the performance, I asked myself the same question. After firmly dismissing the idea of denying Jesus, after professing his love and loyalty to Him, after living with and learning from this most amazing man, why does Peter run? Why does he deny Christ? Why does he fail? This question doesn’t just apply to Peter, but to me personally. If I claim to love Jesus with all my heart, to desire Him with all my will, then why do I so often find myself running and hiding? Does my trust in God really outweigh my fears? I wish I could confidently say “yes.” The truth is, I fail often and I often fail well. Even when I have the best of intentions, I often let fear, or selfishness, get in the way of truly obeying God and serving others. This fear can prevent us from living up to our roles as friends, siblings, parents, and Christians. However, I believe that fear taught Peter something important on that fateful night.
In those final moments before Jesus is condemned and crucified, Peter does not understand the gravity of Jesus’ mission. He doesn’t know why he can’t yet follow where Jesus is going (John 13:36). He cannot comprehend the idea of wanting to be where Jesus is not. Despite Jesus’ cryptic predictions, Peter does not know what horrors await his Teacher and Friend. Perhaps when the Roman Soldiers appear, everything is brought into focus for Peter. Suddenly, Jesus’ words about suffering and death, about “not eating” or drinking again, about “taking up your Cross” take on a whole new meaning. They are a terrifying reality. When human beings are faced with terrifying threats, their bodies produce adrenaline—what is called the “fight or flight” hormone. Peter is prepared to fight, but Jesus quickly and harshly rebukes him. So Peter naturally takes the second option (flight), despite his spiritual desire to show loyalty and love.
My young friend exclaimed that she would not abandon Jesus, and that she wished she could be there with Him when He suffered. What I would give for such confidence and faith! Perhaps it is natural to be a little afraid when God draws us closer into the mystery of His love. After all, there is no heart that suffered more than the Sacred Heart, so those who are close to it will naturally take part in the suffering as well. The closer we draw to Jesus, the more we realize that “the struggle is real,” and His way is folly to the world. The good news is that the story does not end with the Cross, but with the resurrection! If we are willing to share in the sufferings of He who suffered so well, surely we will be glorified with Him as well! (2 Timothy 2:12). Throughout the remainder of Holy Week, let us unite our trials and sufferings to the crucified Christ, knowing that Easter will be all the sweeter when we, together with Jesus, overcome sin and death.
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