The story of Peter’s denying he was a friend of the Lord, out of fear he would suffer the same fate of crucifixion, tells us a great deal about the Christian life. However, a fuller understanding of the meaning of this story can only be obtained by keeping it in the context of other important events in Peter’s life.
After Peter’s confession the Lord takes Peter, James and John up the Mount of Olives to see the glory of the Lord’s Kingdom to come through the triumph of the Cross. That Peter was still confused can be seen by the fact that Peter wanted to build three tents—one each for the Lord, Elijah and Moses—implying he failed to understand that Moses and Elijah are the Lord’s servants worshiping the Lord. Peter wanted to honor all three persons equally. Peter also failed to see that the Lord’s flesh is the tent of God’s presence.
In all three Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration the disciples become extremely afraid when the Lord reveals the fullness of his glory to them. Why should they be afraid? Afraid of what and of whom? The Lord is revealing himself to his disciples, so why should they be afraid?
Peter, James and John are afraid because they now know who the Lord is, his plan, and that it means the disciples will also have to go through a transfiguration themselves. Peter is afraid because he will now have to transform his life. Peter’s life now has a whole new purpose, which means going to the Cross with the Lord. Changing our lives makes us afraid because it is difficult in many ways. Further, we do not want to change our lives and live in accordance with the Gospel because the Christian life is hard and demanding.
It is fear that holds Christians back—as it did Peter—from living up to the challenge of the Gospel. The challenge of the Gospel is also what keeps many away from embracing the Gospel at all. We, like Peter, are all afraid of the challenge of the Gospel, and this is perhaps why we have no silence in our lives. We too, out of fear, do not want to be alone on the mount with the Lord. Our lives are full of popular music, television, computers…all omnipresent in our lives. We want to avoid silence in our lives at all costs. It is in moments of silence that we face life’s deepest questions: Is there a God? How do I serve him? And how, then, do I change my life?
Like the three disciples, alone on the mount with the Lord, the courage to live the Christian life to its fullest requires transformation, and transformation is a long and challenging process. Prayer is the time to ask ourselves: How do we need to change our lives? Prayer is the time to face our demons, our temptations, our sinfulness, and our willingness to go to the Cross with the Lord.
Finding time for silence in our lives, turning away from our distractions, thinking about our relationship to the Lord, and accepting the challenge of the Gospel are all at the heart of prayer. It is in prayer that we will find the courage to be faithful to the Lord when times get tough. Yet the courage that Peter did not have at the time of the Lord’s crucifixion—but would have later—is available to us all, if we through prayer continuously seek for that faith and courage.