FALLING DOWN IN FEAR, BUT GOING ON IN FAITH
LUKE 22:54-62, NRSV
54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. 55 When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56 Then a servant–girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” 59 Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly. — Luke 22:54-62, NRSV
Through my doctoral program, I developed connections with Christians in ministry in Nigeria. Some of them are from Lagos, some from Abuja, and still others are from further north in Jos. When I’ve traveled to Nigeria, I’ve stayed primarily in Abuja, where a fellow doctoral student, pastor, and colleague lives. On more than one occasion, he shared with me that he wanted to take me to see Jos, where another colleague of ours lives, works (in a conflict resolution center), and pastors. Each time he mentioned the possibility of traveling to Jos, I quickly rejected the possibility. I would not even entertain it. Based on what I’ve read and heard, I was afraid about being swept up in one of the violent clashes for which Jos has become known. It’s a tension-spot between Christians, who are still in the majority, and Muslims, many of whom are affiliated with or at least sympathizers with the more radical, dogmatic, and violent Islamic expressions.
I had no intentions of entering an area in a foreign country where I do not know the rules and becoming targeted for robbery and/or violence because I was both a Black American and a Christian. In short, I didn’t go to Jos because I was a Christian who was afraid of the possibility of being attacked or taken hostage — or worse. So, thanks, but no thanks to Jos! (Let me hasten to add I do not paint most Muslims with such a biased brush. Harmonious and hostile forces are on both sides of the religious and national divide. Some from each religious camp try to stand in the middle and seek to build bridges of understanding and cooperation).
Usually, I consider myself a confident and brave man. Also, I’d like to think of myself as a proud and prophetic witness for Christ. Even if others are afraid to stand in solidarity with Christ in the public square, I’m not. However, that’s the mindset I maintain in the US generally and Brooklyn specifically. It might be a vastly different story if I were in a country or community where people are openly hostile towards Christians. Actually, I don’t have to go outside of the country to encounter such hostility. I can think about how much more likely I can be targeted and terrorized by so-called white Christians, who are bent on promoting and protecting a life that does not include Black people, irrespective of whether I am a Christian man and minister.
With that outlook and experience, I understand and side with Simon Peter in Luke 22:54-62. Standing around the fire outside the courthouse and hoping to catch a morsel of information about what will happen to Jesus, Peter hangs back in the shadows. At the same time, he does not stand too far back because though he may want to avoid the light of public recognition, he still wants to be close enough to the fire to take the chill off his body. Verses 56-60 inform us that Peter, who is desirous of finding out the fate of Jesus while remaining incognito, is recognized. He is identified as an intimate associate of Jesus, not once but three times by three different people, at three different intervals. Contrary to his earlier protestations and promises, Peter denies any affiliation with Jesus to save his own skin (see Luke 22:31-34). I can’t blame him because I imagine he did so out of fear, even though he still retained faith in Jesus.
Have you never done something to save your own skin? Have you never found yourself saying and doing something to get out of a terrible and terror-filled jam? I’m not proud of it. However, I can admit to occasionally being afraid to stand up and speak out, even though that has been my modus operandi for much of my personal life and pastoral career. In short, sometimes we want to neither risk nor lose what we have — whatever that might be.
Still, the Lord, through this passage, can teach us a thing or two about walking with and living for him. “What?” you may ask. My response:
- Be clear that a single moment of fear and failure does not erase a lifetime of a track record of standing with and trusting Christ.
- Be careful about the life you live for Christ because someone is always watching.
- Be mindful the Lord knows where and when we will come up short and knows how that experience can educate, encourage, and empower us to pass future moments when our faith will be tested. (Acts 2-4)
Thought & Question for Today: The Lord knows we will all fall flat on our faces in our Christian walk and witness. The only question left to be answered, which he leaves up to us, is: Will we admit it, ask forgiveness for it, and then get up and go on because of it — not despite it?