Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.Matthew 5:42
If you needed something or someone–especially during a vulnerable moment–and you were turned away or thrown out on the street, it is a gut-wrenching and soul-burning experience.
When we knock upon the door of a stranger and we are turned away, we do not react the same way as when we turned away from people who are our friends and loved ones. Do love and betrayal go hand in hand? Can one not exist without the other?
Often, the people who turn us away are our friends, our loved ones and even our families. They are those who are closest and dearest to us. You needed help and instead of helping you, you were turned away. They stabbed you in the back and left you out in the cold.
Sometimes, it was due to a ‘fault’ of your own. At other times, it was the ‘fault’ that existed within another person that led them to turn you away. Betrayal is a strong theme in the New Testament. Judas Iscariot has been hailed as a traitor for betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.
But he was not the only one.
The Half-Hearted Foe
Some of the betrayals we have to deal with are ‘large’. They have consequences on the way with which we perceive the world and all of our relations. These are the ones that we find difficult–almost impossible–to forgive.
Other transgressions are smaller, and on the surface, they are seemingly easier to forgive. The pains that emerge from the latter are not grave enough for us to be taken to the cross, but they hurt nonetheless.
St. Peter, himself, denied Jesus. During Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus predicted that Peter would deny knowledge of him. He stated that Peter would disown him before the rooster crowed the next morning. After Jesus was arrested due to Iscariot’s betrayal, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times.
After the third denial, when Peter heard the rooster crow, he recalled Jesus’ prediction and began to cry bitterly. The number three is significant, for it reminds us that when we are forsaken; it does not happen only once, but over and over again.
Even in the event that we have forgiven, we are leaving ourselves open for it to happen again.
The sole culprit for Peter’s shortcoming as a disciple was fear. He wasn’t as ‘bad’ as the others and certainly not as terrible as Iscariot. Although the others had fled, Peter still followed Jesus after his arrest. But Peter kept his distance so as not to be identified with him. There is no question that fear gripped him. He had not stopped loving Jesus, but since he acted with fear–instead of faith–he made decisions that were not in alignment with his true calling.
The world was against Jesus; and Jesus was in a particularly vulnerable moment. He was about to be crucified. Peter was neither prepared nor willing to face the ridicule and persecution that Jesus was suffering. St. Peter did not put himself first. He allowed fear to override his love. In that moment, Peter discovered that he was not as bold and courageous as he perhaps thought himself to be. In fear, he denied the one who had loved him; and the one whom he had loved.
The news about Him (Jesus) spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them.Matthew 4:24
The story, however, doesn’t end there. In the end, Peter does fulfil his destiny. Not only did he strengthen the other disciples, he became the rock of the church; evangelising others to walk the path of Jesus. His faith, after having gone through the trials that he had gone through, had become rock-solid.
But it was a journey to get there. It did not happen suddenly or overnight.
Our instinctual fears lead us to behave in ways that reveal our deepest insecurities to everyone around us. It is the half-hearted path. It is only walking half the path and leaving our companions to bear the second half of the journey alone. It is what allows us to sleep well at night thinking that we’re ‘good people’; when in actuality our lack of commitment and follow through is revealed through our actions.
We talked the talk and only half-heartedly walked the walk. We gave up halfway.
In the end, Peter himself would have to bear the cross. The Roman Emperor Nero ordered his execution. But Peter’s ‘crucifixion’ would be different. St. Peter requested to be crucified upside down as he felt unworthy to die in the same manner as Jesus.
In the end, St. Peter walks with faith. But not everyone does. We do not always show courage in the most vulnerable of moments. We turn people away when they are at their most vulnerable and leave them to die. Instead of showing our loyalty and courage in the face of another’s suffering, we turn them away and reveal the full extent of our cowardice.
Half-hearted courage is not something to celebrate. It is something to overcome and fulfil. It requires us to draw deep within the well of wisdom that resides within us so that we walk the path that we said we would walk. It also requires us to remain steadfast and walk that path till the very end.
If we only do things halfway, we set ourselves up for a life where we leave many chapters half-complete. When the moment arises to do better ‘next time’, will we? Or will we let it happen three times and wait till the rooster calls before we wake up?
Some of us will wake up. Some of us won’t. That is reality.
The lives of those who have come before us provide us with a deep insight into the fragilities of all humans seeking to manifest a higher path and a higher purpose.
It is not simply a path to be spoken about. It is a path to be trodden on.