Peter in the courtyard is perhaps the centre of the discipleship journey for me. Certainly, Jesus upon the cross remains the mystical heart of faith – central to the mystery and passion of divine reconciliation. But for my own journey in seeking to follow Jesus, there is a profound broken beauty in Peter’s courtyard moment.
This headstrong, hopeful, and sometime hapless disciple, has managed to summon enough courage to follow Jesus even after Gethsemane and into the belly of the beast. As the sounds of Jesus’ torture howl up into the night, Peter skulks around the fire surrounded by Roman soldiers, secret police, and political functionaries. Glimpsing the true path of faith, he tiptoes in…
And in the moment when confrontation arrives, the cost is too great.
He denies faith.
He denies Jesus.
He denies his own sense of self and calling.
Then the cock crows, and his heart rends in two. Broken.
But this is more than a study in failure; a portrait of one man. It is mirror for me and for us all to look in. Faith will demand so much. Its reversal of the world’s values and its call to trust in a crucified messiah, is a form of madness. We will all find that at some point this path of following Jesus will feel too great, demand too much.
We will all deny faith, deny Jesus, and at some point, deny our very selves.
For it is only at that point we can realise that we cannot make this journey on our own strength. In our failure, we will come to see that is only through grace of God revealed in this Jesus, that we can journey further in discipleship.
It is only from that broken moment, that we can cease making faith a test of our strength, and begin seeing it as a trust in the ridiculous and transformative grace of Jesus. (love your enemies? Blessed are the poor?) And then, when we have ceased striving from our own strength, we will find ourselves on a beach with the Resurrected One who will remind us again – we are loved.
Failure is not a deviation from the path of faith. It is a crucial step. We are called to risk everything, to give our lives away in following after Jesus. And that is something we can never truly do on our own.
“In the end is my beginning” wrote TS Eliot, and that seems to me to capture something of Peter and our journey.
True faith lies in the discovery of grace on the far side of our own failure.