Peter replied, “Even if all fell away on account of you, I never will.” “I tell you the truth.” Jesus answered, “This very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”-Matthew 26:33-35
In the Occident, it is typically believed that rational thought and the careful study of History are sufficient to attain enlightenment. Thus, Western high-schools and Universities mainly examine knowledge and cleverness while neglecting the Cardinal Virtues.
I believe this is an error because key Historical events indicate that in moments of truth we often fall short due to a lack of courage, and not a lack of foresight. Peter’s Denial offers an important case in point.
On one level, Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ claim at the last supper may be understood as the expression of incredulity. He doesn’t even want to contemplate the possibility that he may disown Jesus although this eventuality is obvious to Jesus.
In doing so, Peter demonstrates that there is often a difference between what we hide from others and what we hide from ourselves. Relative to Jesus, nothing is hidden.
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priests’ house. Peter followed at a distance and when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him.” he said.-Luke 22:55-57
When Peter actually denies Jesus for the first time, this is largely due to cowardice. He doesn’t want to be tortured by the Roman guards so he denies Jesus out of fear of retribution. Far from a moment of truth, anybody can make claims of valor.
Though the spirit may be willing, the flesh is weak.
After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses on himself and swore at them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.-Matthew 26:73-75
There is yet another perspective on Peter’s Denial, due to René Girard which concerns the power of mimetic desire. Peter’s desire to blend in, to be like everybody else, is so strong that he denies Jesus a third time.
This time the cock crows and Peter realises what he has done. Girard argues that the scapegoating mechanism only works if you don’t know what you are doing.
The story of Peter’s Denial is important because he is the bravest of Jesus’ disciples. He is the only disciple standing near Jesus as Jesus is led away by the Roman guards. Yet he fails the test of History as predicted by Jesus.
The moral of the story is that it is an error to neglect the development of patience, flexibility and courage. Historically, these values were carefully cultivated in other cultures such as Japan. Meanwhile, the Westerners of my generation are often in error but never in doubt.