Monday, June 29, 2009

But this is your hour, and the power of darkness

Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!’

Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, ‘This man also was with him.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’ Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting, ‘Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’ At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. 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.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.

- Luke 22:52-62

In this passage, we continue the moments of great darkness, what might have been called more colloquially, a "witching hour" - a time of great reversal. Jesus himself says, 'But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!’ What is being done is done in secret, and not before the people. There is suggestion here of extrajudicial action, something beyond the scope of normal due process. Jesus says that he is being treated as a bandit, and not as someone who was day after day teaching openly in the temple, where no one would approach him.

As he is being led to the high priest's house, Peter follows, and what happens afterward is a sign of this reversal, this hour of darkness. Peter is questioned three times about his allegiance to the Teacher - and three times he refuses to even acknowledge any connection with Jesus. This is Peter's predicted betrayal. In the heat of his emotions so often, our "Rock" Peter has sworn great allegiance. Yet Jesus knew him well, and predicted his betrayal. Verse 61 notes that after this betrayal of denial three times, "The Lord turned and looked at Peter." This personal note of a glance between Jesus and Peter, the master and disciple, is found only in Luke, our great physician and doctor of human nature.

But of course, there's a purpose to this beyond our hour of darkness. Whatever happens in life, we know that reversals and trials are going to come. There's none of us that's perfect. But Luke, our physician, is always about restoration, that which heals and restores us to ourselves. The glance of Christ, here, toward his friend and apostle Peter, is so profound, because it tells us that no matter what the darkness, who we are is known and acknowledged. Peter's deepest failing as a man and as a follower of this Teacher, as someone who has sworn his deepest allegiance only a short time before, is acknowledged for what he's done. The evangelist leaves no doubt that Christ knows full well his apostle's betrayal of Jesus and his own word.

But unlike Judas, Peter's deep repentance, his bitter tears, will lead to a humble desire for forgiveness, a return to Christ. But that will come later in the gospel. For now, let us focus on and understand this nature of ourselves as emotional beings, given to great sworn statements (to ourselves or to others) of our intentions, our best-laid plans, our most high hopes for some sort of personal plan or resolution. I think it's important to be aware of our own natures, that we can't predict what a time of darkness will do for us - or rather "to" us. We don't know what every test or challenge will bring; what hardships may bring out our own weaknesses, our own betrayals of our best intentions and deepest hopes for the kind of person we think we are. In this example, we know what we are and that we have weakness, and it's important to acknowledge that, and know that despite our imperfections, we're not put in the world to serve as plaster statues or absolute models in some sort of static sense of being, but rather life is a dynamic process of growth and advancement. We have our ups and downs. We fail. And then again, we may just return for an even greater, and deeper response and affirmation to life that lifts us beyond our greatest hopes for what we can leave behind us, and who we can be, what virtues we are capable of embodying in response to deep challenges.

In the darkness, I pray for you, and me, because we'll all feel it one way or another. The question is really how we go through it, and understand it. If you experience this particular darkness - of evil, of injustice and deceit, of reversal, betrayal, or even your own heart-breaking weakness despite your best intentions, know that there is a way through it.

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