We have examples of how fear can control us and situations in today's Gospel selection from Luke. Jesus has been arrested and challenges those people who have arrested him with force of arms. He says, truthfully, that he has been peacefully among them, teaching in the temple and yet they have chosen to come for him at night and armed. Luke does not provide their response to him. Where they embarrassed? Or where they so caught up in their own self-righteousness that they could not see the hypocrisy of their actions?
This is followed by the story of Peter, and his three denials of his knowing Jesus. Peter has so much humanity as he is portrayed in Scripture. He trails along after Jesus, following his capture. Peter tries to blend into the group hanging around outside of the place where Jesus is being held, where Jesus is in full view. Over the course of a few hours, Peter denies any association with Jesus, and after the last, Jesus "turned and looked at Peter."
Imagine the power of that knowing look. All of us have been in analogous positions in life, where we are doing something, almost automatically, based on fear. And then something happens that jars our conscience to full-naked awareness, and we feel terrible for the acts we have just committed. One of the things we are meant to consider from this account of fear-based betrayal, and the power of a mob to mask our individually rooted fear, is the basic truth that when we are afraid, our lesser selves can lead us to acts which we will regret later.
There are multiple challenges given to us in today's Gospel. One is for all of us to be cognizant of our ability to allow fear to direct our actions. Perhaps when we find ourselves in those types of situations, we should think of Jesus' eyes looking at Peter. That look isn't one of reproach, needn't be one that embarrasses us. Instead, those compassionate and knowing eyes can help us find that place of strength and courage to step forward in faith and hope, and allow our better selves to rule the day.
Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: SW Waterfront, 2011, jfd+