By the Fire

Posted by on Mar 25, 2013 in Encounters | No Comments


You are tired. Confused. It is the early hours of the morning and still dark. Sitting by a fire, you are shivering because it is cold, and because you are afraid. You cannot quiet your mind, your thoughts race without purpose or order. You sense movement and your mind goes still, but there is no rest in that stillness. You are suddenly alert. A servant girl is buzzing around you like a mosquito, studying you: “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus.” she says.  “I don’t know him.” you reply.

You can feel your stomach tightening, your breathing getting shallow, your ears pinning back. You can see into the inner courtyard but the sounds coming from it are muddy and indistinct. You strain to hear what is being said but can’t make anything out and these people will not shut up and leave you alone to focus. A different servant girl picks up the inquisition “yes, you were with him. you’re one of them.(my God do these people have nothing else to do?) You bark out the words “I said I don’t know him!” (okay, that was too much….settle. try to look disinterested, unworried.) “I’m sorry”, you say,  “I’m just very tired. I didn’t mean to snap at you”

Trying to play it off, but your voice feels shaky. Does she notice? Does she believe you? You search her face for a clue, trying to look without appearing to be looking. And just as you decide your okay, another voice violates your fragile composure. A man approaches you: “Go on, you’re definitely with him. Your accent gives you away” He seems to have something in his hand. Just then, from inside the house, comes the shout “blasphemy! He deserves death!” And as if outside your own body you hear yourself:  “I’ll be damned if I do! I don’t know what you’re talking about! Let it go!”

As you speak, a cock begins to crow. You turn reflexively towards the house, and in that moment ,know a shame and hopelessness like nothing you have ever experienced. Because he is looking right at you. And you know, that if you live to be a hundred, you will never forget this moment, never forgive yourself for what you have done.


How do you picture this moment? What kind of look was on the face of Jesus? disgusted? (how could you have done that?) dismissive? (yea, you’re some rock)   disappointment? despair? (I guess I knew this would happen. No one stands with me) What do you think?

I think a look of compassion.

What do you think about Peter? Do you think that he was insincere when he said “I will never betray you?” Or a hypocrite? Or a poser? Or a fool?

What do you think that Jesus thought of him?

We can be far more conscious of our failures, and they are many, than of the depth of understanding, grace and love of Jesus for us, especially in those failures. Brennan Manning puts it like this:

  • “Do you believe that the God of Jesus loves you beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity—that he loves you in the morning sun and in the evening rain—that he loves you when your intellect denies it, your emotions refuse it, your whole being rejects it. Do you believe that God loves without condition or reservation and loves you this moment as you are and not as you should be, because you are never going to be as you should be. – All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir

You may have read the novel Silence by Shūsaku Endō. Set in Japan in the early 1600’s, during a time when all missionaries were expelled from the country and all Japanese were required to register as Buddhists. Security officials force suspected Christians to trample on a fumie, a bronze icon that bore the image of Christ. Those who refuse are imprisoned and killed by being hung upside down over a pit and slowly bled out. The survivors then, were the apostates, the fallen ones. The betrayers. Among them, a former Jesuit priest named Ferreira.

Some years later another priest, named Fr. Rodrigues, arrives in Japan to look for Ferreira who had been his mentor. He cannot understand how Ferreira could have done such a thing. Certainly he himself would die before denying the faith. Like Peter, Rodrigues is full of  confidence and self-assurance. He writes to his superiors of the heroic work of Christ that he has been privileged to accomplish: “After Sunday Mass for the first time I intoned and recited the prayers in Japanese with the people. … As I speak there often arises in my mind the face of one who preached the Sermon on the Mount; and I imagine the people who sat or knelt fascinated by his words.”

Eventually, Rodrigues is betrayed to the officials and given the option: Does he accept torture and execution? Or does he tramp on the image of Christ, denying his Lord in order to live? He finds he is not so certain as he imagined, not so courageous as he assumed. As he looks down at the fumie, at the image of the one who died for him he is startled. Endo writes:

  • …the face was different from that on which the priest had gazed so often in Portugal, in Rome, in Goa and in Macau. It was not Christ whose face was filled with majesty and glory; neither was it a face made beautiful by endurance to pain; nor was it a face with strength of a will that has repelled temptation. The face of the man who then lay at his feet was sunken and utterly exhausted…The sorrow it had, gazed up at him as the eyes spoke appealingly: ‘Trample! Trample! It is to be trampled on by you that I am here.’

Beloved, there is in each of us that voice which cries hosanna! and which also cries “crucify him!” In each of us faithfulness and betrayal, witness and denial. But we are loved. Whenever you turn your head in the direction of Jesus, you will see him looking back at you with compassion, grace, and acceptance. Even when you have just failed him. He knows our failures and that is precisely why he came to us.

You are known. You are loved.

C.S. Lewis wrote that love is as warm as tears, as fierce as fire, as fresh as spring. And, he wrote:

Love’s as hard as nails,
Love is nails.
Blunt, thick, hammered through
The medial nerves of One
Who, having made us, knew
The thing He had done,
Seeing (with all that is)
Our cross, and His.

Can you believe that?