Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." -- 1 Peter 1:14-16
A long time ago, I remember having a discussion in a Bible Study about what it means to be "holy." If you think about Jesus' ministry on earth, what was it about him that made other people see him as holy? He had many powers, many gifts, and was wise beyond measure. These might have made him holy, yet other men did the same. Jesus was different. As it says in John's Gospel, though he knew he came from God and was going to God, he became a servant as an example to others. (see John 13) This is what distinguished Jesus. This is what made people follow him.
Last Wednesday, as we read another passage from Peter's First Letter, I was surprised to hear Peter described as someone who could easily have been a bully. I wondered why. Peter was large in stature, a strong fisherman, and clearly favored by Jesus. At times he thought he knew better than Jesus. It is not a stretch to see him full of pride, and very bossy as the "rock" on which Jesus' church was built, especially after he received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentacost.
In order for pride not to have become a factor in his life, Peter must have had some humbling experiences. I think his most humbling experience must have been when he denied knowing Jesus. I can imagine how terrible Peter felt after that betrayal. He had denied knowing his Master, whom he loved, out of self-protection. Three times he denied him after he had just vowed to follow Jesus to the death. How much self-loathing would Peter have experienced at that moment?
Peter's journey from strength and pride to utter humility, and then back up to beloved leader of the early church is pretty amazing. And, it is amazing that Jesus saw in Peter the qualities that were necessary to bring about this turnaround. For not everyone would react this way to personal defeat. Some people would place the blame on someone else. Or, once forgiven, they would return to their previous behavior and not learn anything more.
I read today in the Selected Works of Bernard of Clairvoux: "Our Lord shows us both the difficulty of the way and the reward of the labor. "I am the way, the truth and the life." The way, he says, is humility, which leads to truth.... But, you ask, how do I know that he is speaking of humility when he says only, "I am the way"? Listen to this clearer statement, "Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart" ... If you imitate him you will not walk in darkness; you will have the light of light. What is the light of life but truth ... the fruit of the knowledge of truth is humility." (pg. 102-103).
I think of my own journey. As I began to understand God's will better, I began to see my own sins more clearly. This was very disconcerting to me. I seemed to be worse off knowing God's will than I was when I was ignorant! But, now, I am beginning to see that in recognizing who I am, honestly, warts and all, I am being made more and more humble, by necessity. For my humility, in turn, is leading me to a deeper understanding and love of my neighbor. For we can only truly love our neighbor when we can see ourselves in them. I cannot love my neighbor and want to judge my neighbor at the same time.
The Way of Jesus leads to Truth -- inward truth. And recognizing the truth in ourselves leads to Life, to love, to joy.
Dear God, Wonderful Teacher, there is much to be learned in the valleys. Not just about the mistakes we have made, but also about the person we are at heart, and the person you give us the strength to become. Blessed be thy name. Love always, Pam