In today’s gospel lesson (Mark 14:66-72), we read the heart-breaking story of Peter’s denial of Jesus. As the tragic story reaches its momentary conclusion, we read, “And immediately the cock crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.” As much as I might prefer to read that story as if Peter were suddenly surprised at the magnitude of his betrayal, that’s not how the story goes. He knew in advance how treacherous his actions would be. And I think that each time he denied Jesus he was conscious of the inevitability of his failure as if it were a massive internal struggle he was destined to lose.
How many times do we feel as if we are stuck on an unalterable path that leads to devastation? Additions are a little like that, and people who come to me ready for help with an addition often say that they can see the destructive path they are headed down and feel powerless to alter its course. It takes a power greater than themselves, they must acknowledge, in order to change the direction in which their life is headed. And that’s the truth behind the gospel lesson, too.
The story, of course, doesn’t end with Peter’s denial. Jesus dies and is raised, and, when he comes to Peter, he assures him of his forgiveness. The story never ends with defeat. It can’t. Just as our disasters are inevitable, so too is our redemption. But that truth—the inevitability of God’s forgiveness—is inextricably linked to the inevitability of our sinfulness. We are on an unalterable path toward death and destruction. But God has taken that path and overlaid onto it his own path of unalterable redemption. Just as we cannot set our course away from sin, so too are we unable to avoid the eventual destination that lies beyond our destruction.
It’s hard, sometimes, to be fully aware of the inevitability of my sin and yet also be aware of God’s incessant forgiveness. Human logic would suggest that a worthless cause (like me) should be abandoned. And, if it were only about me, the abandonment would be certain. But the path I am on is set ultimately by God. And that means that even if I find myself denying the very means of my salvation God will still pursue me and place me on a course that leads to forgiveness.