The first time I realized I was a jerk was my senior year in college.
A younger student asked what I thought was a stupid question. From the back of the classroom, where I sat with arms folded smugly judging the hoi polloi, I interjected a thinly veiled rebuttal designed to shame the other student while simultaneously revealing to everyone else my own theological impressiveness.
Then, in what can only be described as the work of prevenient grace, as I was weaving the final sentence of my know-it-all speech, I heard myself for the first time. The last few words trailed off and I sat still and quiet, unable to avoid the reality unveiled in that moment.
I had just plowed over another person in pursuit of accolades. Worse, I had been doing this for years without realizing it, all in a desperate, exhausting pursuit of affirmation.
Warmed Heart or Kick in the Gut
This experience was nothing short of a conversion. John Wesley may have felt a subtle warming in his heart, but this was a swift kick to the gut, forceful enough to be jolted awake from the stupor of my ego. Ignorance was no longer an excuse. I stared clear-eyed at the reality of my darkness and needed to reckon with it.
I imagine this unveiling is similar to what Peter experienced when the rooster crowed, and he discovered, to his horror, that he had become the person he swore he would never become (“I will never betray you”). I never wanted to be a jerk. “What? Me? Never will I demean another person and make them feel little,” I might have said and believed it with all my heart. I just wanted to be valued. I never wanted to be a jerk. I just wanted to be valued. Click To Tweet
What’s more sobering than the prospect that, at any given moment, you might actually, already be entangled in the darkness you hoped to avoid most of all?
Luke tells us that it wasn’t the sound of the rooster that triggered Peter’s moment of awareness, but Jesus’ gaze. The word Luke uses to describe how Jesus “looked at” Peter carries a sense of directness and seriousness, no casual glance. It’s the same word used throughout the Gospels when Jesus looks directly into someone’s eyes right before he says the most important thing they’ve ever heard.
When Jesus saw Peter this time, no words were exchanged. Instead, as Jesus’ eyes interrupted Peter’s denial, Luke says that Peter remembered the “word of the Lord.” What word of Jesus did Peter recall in this moment? Was it Jesus’ prediction of his denial? Probably so, but maybe he remembered more.
In the language of Scripture, the phrase “word of the Lord” is a bit loaded. It is associated with special, divine utterance. It is the kind of sacred word that calls things into being out of nothing, that sets nations free from bondage, that brings life out of death. In relation to Jesus, it came to be shorthand for the Gospel itself. The “word of the Lord” is the Good News.
In the worst moment of his life, Peter is seen by Jesus. There is no good news in getting caught – in simultaneously discovering and being discovered in your bad. Right? This is the kind of moment we all desperately hope to avoid and so exert disproportionate amounts of energy being the good Christian we ought to be.
Good Christians Don’t Get Caught
Well, that’s what I’ve believed most of my life – if my actions are the best indication of the truth I trust most deeply. The bad news about getting caught was the preeminent word hovering over me in the classroom that day. Ironically, my commitment to that reality probably contributed to my inability to reckon honestly with the junk plainly spilling out of my life and injuring others.
But maybe the word Peter recalled, standing vulnerable and completely known before the Lord, communicated more than, “I told you so!” Maybe it was the kind of word that opened space for Peter to receive the good news crashing to earth in Jesus, even if that reality only occurred to him post-resurrection.
I wonder how Peter would have ever journeyed into wholeness without being seen by Jesus, especially in the worst moment of his life. What else could have dispelled the illusion that his brokenness was somehow manageable?
Was there ever a holier moment, a moment more primed for the release of God’s kingdom, in Peter’s life? Within this question is the subversive possibility that Peter’s giant failure to be a good disciple was actually the very occasion for the Gospel to transform the trajectory of his life. Peter’s failure to be a good disciple was occasion for the Gospel to transform his life. Click To Tweet
Let’s Drop the Act
Since the time of the Jerk Apocalypse, I’ve done my best to hide from the jerk, sometimes with success but not always (that’s the thing about ignorance, right?). Like Peter, I’m more than willing to work harder at being a good Christian (John 13:37), lest I get caught once again with hand fully stuffed inside the jar of my brokenness.
Today, however, I want to lean into the possibility that being seen by Jesus is better than hiding and striving. I want to trust that there actually is good news in the painful unveiling of sin and, in fact, there is no other way to move forward into wholeness in Jesus.
Maybe you’re a jerk too – or maybe you just know someone who’s a jerk. Why don’t we drop the good Christian act today and let ourselves be seen – weep and lament where appropriate – and run headlong to the table where Jesus is waiting, meal already prepared, to commune with us?
Or maybe your church is entrenched in a “don’t get caught” spirituality. Maybe there’s plenty of talk about the Gospel and maybe everyone recites the Confession every Sunday, but in practice everyone knows that failure to be a good Christian must be avoided at all cost.
That might mean the identity of your community is defined entirely by the sin (or certain, socially recognizable sins) you successfully avoid. Maybe you’re discovering that people willing rally around this type of spirituality, but that maintaining the charade is unsustainable and corrosive to cultivating the fullness of life in Christ and participation in God’s mission of reconciling all things.
Why don’t we drop the act and make room for God’s reconciliation in Christ to break forth in our midst? Today, we can trust that it’s safe to do this in God’s kingdom because getting caught under the cross – coming undone before Jesus’ gaze – is not the obstacle but the gateway for Gospel transformation in our community. Drop the act and make room for God’s reconciliation in Christ to break forth in our midst Click To Tweet