Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It Was the Lord Who Turned

This reflection on Peter's denial of Christ three times before cock crow resonates all the more after last Sunday's reading of the parable of the prodigal son. I especially like the commentary on the two kinds of sorrow for sin.
... But the real lesson in Peter's life is one of repentance. his fall is a lesson in sin that requires no teacher, but his repentance is a great lesson in salvation. And it is this great lesson that contains the only true spiritual meaning to those who have personally made Peter's discovery -- that they have betrayed our God.

What then can we learn from Peter's turning around? First, it was not Peter who turned. It was the Lord who turned and looked at Pater. When the cock crew, that might have kept Peter from falling further. But he was just in the very act of sin. And when a person is in the thick of his sin his last thought is to throw down his arms and repent. So Peter never thought of turning, but the Lord turned. And when Peter would rather have looked anywhere else than at the Lord, the Lord looked at Peter. This scarce-noticed fact is the only sermon needed to anyone who sins -- that the Lord turns first.

For this reason it is important to distinguish between two kinds of sorrow for sin. The one has to do with feeling sorry over some wrong or sin we have committed. This feeling seems to provide a sort of guarantee that we are not disposed to do the same wrong again, and that our better self is still alive enough to enter its protest against the sin our lower self has done. And we count this feeling of reproach which treads so closely upon the act, as a sort of compensation or atonement for the wrong.

In this kind of sorrow, however, there is no real repentance, no true sorrow for sin. It is merely wounded self-love. It is a sorrow over weakness,over the fact that when we were put to the test we found to our chagrin we had failed. But this chagrin is what we are apt to mistake for repentance. This is nothing but wounded price -- sorrow that we did not do better, that we were not so good as we and others thought. It is just as if Peter turned and looked upon Peter. ...

All this is to say that there is a vast difference between divine and human sorrow. Human sorrow is us turning and looking upon ourselves. True, there is nothing wrong in turning and looking at oneself -- only there is a danger. We can miss the most authentic experience of life in the imitation. For genuine repentance consists of feeling deeply our human helplessness, of knowing how God comes to us when we are completely broken.

In the end, it is God looking into the sinner's face that matters. ...

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