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Peter the Swordsman - Peter the Coward

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter displays his remarkable ability to act on instinct…and he’s an instinctive fighter.  He sees Jesus in danger, and throws himself into battle without a thought for his own safety.  At this point, you can’t help but think of Peter as a man of action.  A soldier for Christ.  But hours later, he’s so frightened that he can’t even admit to knowing Jesus.

Where did this contradiction come from?  Why did he turn from a raging lion to a timid mouse?

Peter had some time to reflect, and it might have been enough time to realize that his own life was at stake.  But this still doesn’t account for the change.  After all, every soldier realizes he may die in battle…and he continues to charge anyway. 

We know for certain that Peter was stuck on the alluring ideals of worldly power and honor…and that he battled with these misconceptions constantly.  We see these contrary positions again and again in the Bible.  From his sinking in the water (just after walking on it) to Jesus rebuking him after announcing his role as the “rock” of the Church.  The obvious lesson we find in Peter is how we can succeed through Christ and Christ’s mercy when our weaknesses cause us to fail.

But what’s really striking about Peter’s denial of Christ (and probably the reason for his denial) was that it was the pivot point in Peter’s perception.  It was then that he realized Jesus was about spiritual (not physical) liberation…and this often included physical hardship…even death.

Peter wasn’t just experiencing fear…he was having a brain overload.  All the dynamics of his mission suddenly flopped on him.  Imagine…his entire outlook on life had just turned upside down.  He finally got the message that Jesus had been preaching all along.

I’m reminds me of the first time I fell in love.  Not a likely parallel for most, but in my situation, it was the beginning of life.  Until that time, I had spent long hours every night studying the laws and doctrines of Catholicism.  But I wasn’t a part of the Church…not in the sense that Jesus wants us to be. 

My perception of religion was a logical sequence of cause and effect, of do’s and don’t do’s, of truths and lies.  But a relationship with Christ is so much deeper than that.  And I couldn’t begin to see it, because I hadn’t accepted His love…in fact I didn’t know what love was.

So I meet my future wife, and suddenly I find myself experiencing this new part of me that can make me miserable and blissful all at once.  I discovered love.  And my love for another person made something click…I discovered a new love for Christ.

This changes everything.  Tolerance, mercy, and justice were transformed from a flat concept to a working practicality.  The Christian life took depth and form.  I had to reevaluate everything.  It didn’t turn me into another person, but it made me realize that I would have to change.

This is what Peter was struggling with.  In just a few hours, Jesus’ message became a new working mechanism.  It was taken from the drawing board and put into action.  Peter couldn’t deal with it.  His mind must have been like a blizzard, bursting with realizations and new understandings.  Loose ends and half truths were suddenly complete.  There was an actual framework and it was being filled in with more color than he could handle.

There’s one major way this relates to our own lives.  Peter had direct contact with the most authoritive Teacher in history…and it still took Jesus three years to make him ‘get it’.  If we’re ever depressed because we don’t understand the events in our own lives, we can always look to Peter.  Just remember that we’ll eventually get it…but we should be preparedScience Articles, because it might not be what we expect.

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Written by Eric Engel, chief editor of The Catholic Letter at

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