I’m a terrible card player.
I apparently wear my emotions on my sleeve, to the extent that I am unable to bluff my way out of anything. Whether it’s Uno, cribbage, poker or spoons, one of my friends once told me that playing cards with me is like playing with someone wearing mirrored sunglasses.
In the Gospel passage, Simon Peter says to Jesus, “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man”.
Simon Peter knew that he was a sinner, and from the very beginning of his acquaintance with Jesus, he laid his cards on the table. He wore no mask. He made no pretense of holiness, no show of false humility, no attempt at political correctness. Much like Isaiah at the beginning of our first reading, who says “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips”, Simon Peter bluntly tells Jesus “This is who I am. Leave me.”
In an age when most of us are used to having to wear physical masks, how many of us are even willing to admit that we put on other masks all the time—emotional masks, spiritual masks which allow us to hide from others who we are on the inside or what we are thinking? How many of us are even aware that the persona we present to the world around us is sometimes very different from who we really are, and what is going on inside our minds and hearts? Unlike Simon Peter, very few of us are inclined, in our dealings with others, to make no pretense. We usually put on our “game face” in order to face the world, putting on a mask of civility, even of perfection, to those around us.
That isn’t always a bad thing. It allows for communication and cooperation in difficult circumstances. But if that is all we do, we can become so accustomed to wearing this mask that we forget to take it off when alone. And we forget who we are on a deeper, human level, refusing not only to show to those around us who we are but unable to recognize this even for ourselves. We may make a show of presenting ourselves to the world with honesty, of saying, “This is who I am” but all the while we hide behind masks, attempting to present ourselves to the outside world as successful, as happy, as holy.
Simon Peter was certainly correct when he told Jesus that he was a sinful man. But Jesus was able to see through Peter’s sinfulness to recognize something more, someone, upon whom he was willing to build the foundation of his Church. He was able to say to him, “Do not be afraid”, and recognize in him something Peter could not recognize in himself. And because Jesus was able to see this in Peter, Peter was able to change—to become transformed into something new.
Oh, there were certainly occasions when the old Peter would shine through—occasions when he would blunder, when he would put his foot in his mouth—occasions when he would let his fears take hold of him so that they would weigh him down, causing him to sink like a heavy rock when Jesus was offering him the power to walk on water. There was also that occasion when so he allowed his doubts to take hold of him that he even denied knowing Jesus three times. But even in the midst of these denials, Jesus was able to see something more. Even when Simon Peter was at his worst, promoting his agenda of who wanted Jesus to be and what he expected him to do, Jesus did not give up on him. Even after Peter denied him, Jesus was able to tell him, “Feed my sheep”, entrusting to him the care of the fledgling Church.
Similarly, our Christian faith assures us that Jesus does not give up on us.
In spite of our masks, in spite of our attempts to present an image of ourselves that is perfect, or successful, or politically correct, or even holy, Jesus sees through the pretense. He sees through our fear. He looks into our hearts and souls and recognizes us for who we are. He sees our flaws. He knows our sins. He recognizes our struggles and our longings.
But he does not condemn us.
Rather, he calls upon us to look him in the eyes and recognize that God alone is holy. God alone is perfect. For it is only in recognizing God’s holiness and God’s perfection that we can truly accept who we are—not who we pretend to be. It is only in recognizing our sinfulness that we can allow ourselves to change, that we can allow ourselves to be transformed into something and someone new—someone who is able to recognize in ourselves and others what God sees in all of us—sons and daughters created in his image and likeness—sons and daughter who share in the dignity of our Creator by virtue of our creation and our baptism—sons and daughters whom God constantly calls back to himself, never giving up on us, never denying us, never ignoring us, yet forever challenging us to hear his voice calling to us in the depths of our hearts, not so that we can say, “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinner” but rather that we might respond with open arms and open hearts in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Here I am Lord, send me.”
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