Each year as we reflect upon the Passion of the Lord during Holy Week, I am filled with resolve to be a better person. To turn away from sin and to fill my life with all that is holy. To think of the pain Christ endured because of my sins makes me yearn to never sin again.
And yet, as wonderful as it would be to say that since last Easter, I have not sinned, that is certainly not the case. Although in my heart I firmly intend to turn away from sin, in my soul I long to be closer to the Lord, I am still only human.
Thinking about our sins and our failings in light of the sacrifice Jesus made for us is one thing. What would it have been like to be there? We sing the words, “Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, were you there when they crucified my Lord?” And while we journey alongside Christ through prayer and the Mass, we were not there. But the apostles were. They followed Him, learned from Him, left everything for Him. They loved Him deeply and in their hearts they were so filled with resolve to follow Him always, never to sin again.
We hear the apostles one by one almost pleading with Jesus to not be the betrayer, “Surely it is not I?” (Mk 14:19) We hear Peter promising the Lord that “Even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be” (Mk 14:29) and “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all spoke similarly. (Mk 14:31) They ate with Him and listened to Him as He told them of His coming death, even while their hearts did not fully understand. They followed Him to Gethsemane to be with Him while He prayed and stayed there to keep watch as He asked. And then, in their final moments with the Lord, they fell asleep.
Jesus comes to Peter saying, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Mk 14:37-38) Despite His words, twice more Jesus returned to find them asleep. Though their hearts were in the right place, they could not bring themselves to stay awake!
After Jesus is arrested, although Peter proclaimed His dedication to the Lord and was determined never to deny Him, we know that he does just that. Not once, not twice, but three times does he deny even knowing Jesus. After this the Gospel tells us that Peter “broke down and wept”. (Mk 14:72)
Peter was not just a bystander who listened to Christ from a distance. He had dedicated his whole life to Christ! He had boldly answered Christ, “You are the Messiah.” (Mk 8:29) And while his spirit was so very willing to follow Christ no matter the cost, he still fell to sin. Though his spirit was willing, his flesh was weak. Weak with fear, confusion, and exhaustion.
But Peter’s story does not end here. Despite the weakness of his flesh, despite his failings and sin, his spirit was still willing! He wept at the realization of what he had done. He resolved once again to try harder, to follow more closely, to turn away from sin and live a holy life dedicated to the Lord. The Lord knew that He could do great things through Peter. Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Mt 18:18)
Jesus knew that the willingness of Peter’s spirit would prevail against the weakness of his fleas. Peter’s story is not one of despair, but one of hope and of great mercy and grace. Despite his failings, Peter allowed the Lord to work within him. He repented of his sins and did not let his past failings prevent him from continuing on in Christ.
As we celebrate our Lord’s passion this week we call to mind our own sinfulness. While we are called to repent and turn from sin, sometimes our flesh is weak. During these moments of weakness, we do not need to despair. Our God is loving and merciful beyond our understanding and His grace is more than we can fathom. When we find that we have failed, we need only to ask forgiveness, turn away from sin, and return fully to His endless love. We are not held back by past failings but are renewed in Christ. Though our flesh may be weak, if our spirits are willing He can still work within us to draw us ever closer to Him and to share in His love.