In the Gospel of Matthew (16:13-20), we read:
Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”
This is one moment in which Peter said the right thing, and that didn’t happen too often. In fact, peppered throughout all four gospels are the clumsy Peter stories: when he argued that he was most beloved by Jesus to the other disciples, when he denied that he was a disciple of Jesus (three times), and (my favorite) when he tried to walk on water and, well, sank. (HELLO?? … Peter, you ain’t divine like the Lord, and your faith appears shallower than the water you are swallowing.)
But the fact that Peter was awarded the “rock of the church” honor despite all of his weaknesses brings home your point, God: that you love us for who we are, and you love us despite our sins. Peter reminds us that we need to remain humble of heart. Which means knowing that we will always be defective without you, and that we can be confident of your love even in our sinfulness. In “The Jerusalem Community Rule of Life,” it is written:
Humility should remind you first that you are only a creature. Remember that your strength if from the Lord. Like Peter, acknowledge that you too are only a man, a mortal man like everyone else. And that to be pleasing to God, the greater you are, the more humble you should be, for great is his power, he is honored by the humble. Be willing, then, to be a mere creature before God, and through such fear you will penetrate his secrets.
Humility should also remind you that you are still a sinner. That is the grace of God that makes you what you are. He did not come to call the righteous but sinners. Humble repentance alone can justify you…The man who knows his own weakness is greater than the one who contemplates the angels.
I love that: “the man who knows his own weakness is greater than the one who contemplates the angels.” Because on Beyond Blue, that’s what we do … We talk about our weaknesses, and how we keep on falling into the same bloody addictions, and destructive behavior, and cognitive traps (stinking thinking) over and over again despite our best efforts.
Yes, some of the negative spiral is somewhat inevitable because of our possibly defective limbic systems in the brain: neurons misfiring like a two-year-old trying to water a vegetable garden, and small hippocampuses running the board meetings of our noggin, like the same two-year-old trying to present a Power Point presentation. But it doesn’t matter what we are responsible for and not. The fact is that we become frustrated, and then we start to doubt ourselves, and then think that we are unlovable.
That’s where you come along and say, “No. You’re not unlovable. Actually, right here, right now, where you are – thinking you’re as defective as those Chinese toys painted with lead -this is when you are most useful and most beautiful to me because the bad boy ego isn’t blocking me like it does when things are running smoothly.”
If I have learned anything from my patron saint, Therese of Lisieux, it is that you love us in our littleness, and that you are most present in our doubt and anxiety. Or as the twentieth-century French priest, Jean du Coeur de Jesus d’Elbee, wrote:
Little Therese of Lisieux understood that it is our state of misery that attracts his mercy. Before her, Saint Paul wrote, “Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor 12:9).
For it is this confidence, and nothing but confidence, which will open the arms of Jesus to you so that he will bear you up. It is confidence which will be for you the golden key to his heart….What I cannot do myself Jesus will do. He will take me and lift me up to the summit of the mountain of perfection, to the summit of the mountain of love.