You know how the NCAA Tournament always ends with the song “One Shining Moment”? What’s the opposite of one shining moment?
Recently, a friend sent me a long message outlining how awful the Church is. How arrogant and sinful and greedy and power-hungry the institution is. I realized that that message came from a place of pain, hurt and disappointment, precisely because what that friend saw runs so counter to the life of Jesus portrayed in the Gospels.
And, I mean, he’s right. I don’t need to rehearse the evidence there. But what would you expect?
John 18 is Jesus going to the garden of Gethsemane, getting arrested and accosted by the High Priest and then forwarded to Pontius Pilate for sentencing. I’m struck, because I was just reflecting on the power of one-on-one conversations in my life, that Jesus and Pilate actually have two 1:1s. (Which, if you stop and think about it, makes you wonder how John knew what was said.) But in a lot of ways, the theme of this chapter is Peter, and how wrong he gets it.
First, in Gethsemane, Peter is the one who assumes that, when Jesus and the disciples are confronted by soldiers sent to arrest Jesus, the right response is to draw a sword and fight to the death. (Obviously he didn’t read my post about third unimagined options.)
Then, he uses connections to get into the inner circle of the power structure (in this case the high priest). It’s never really explained why he was trying to get in there, but the only thing he does is take care of his own comfort by warming up at the fire.
In the process, he lies three times about whether he knows Jesus. (Including, in John’s version only, to a relative of the guy Malchus that he de-ear-ified who saw Peter in the garden. That must have been a really convincing denial.)
After Peter gets caught in those denials (by being reminded that Jesus predicted this), he disappears from the narrative until after Jesus returns from the dead.
So, this is the guy Jesus picks to build his church on. The one who fights when he’s supposed to surrender. The one who uses connections to take care of himself. The one who denies he even knows the guy his life depends on.
By Acts, Peter has become more of a superhero, or at least more of a saint. But it’s good to remember the Peter of John 18, because the one in Acts is still the same guy. And he still gets stuff wrong.
I don’t know about you, but I can relate to the Peter who gets stuff wrong. And it lowers my expectations, by a lot, that the Church is going to get it right, even after 2,000 years, at following Jesus’ examples.
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