Updated: Oct 9, 2020
“The Denial of St. Peter”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
“We see that Saint Peter is far from flawless and virtuous; instead, he is easily intimidated by a soldier as he frantically distances himself from Christ, pointing at himself incredulously as if to appear utterly surprised at the notion that he is somehow associated with Jesus.
Peter lacks the saintly character attributed to Biblical figures in earlier works, for he has deeply furrowed brows and looks pale and sickly in the harsh light shining on him-in fact, he more closely resembles a cowardly man eager to appear common and nondescript.
The woman and the soldier have powerful emotional elements in their depictions as well-the soldier appears threatening, seemingly warning Peter of the consequences of allying with Christ, while the woman bears a stern expression that signals her certainty of Peter’s solidarity with Jesus. Finally, the sheer size of the figures is noteworthy, for it places all emphasis on them and on no other point in the painting.
The work has extreme contrasts between light and dark, which, due to their harsh appearance, convey an almost theatrical impression to the viewer. In fact, Peter’s head is fully and strongly illuminated, while the soldier’s visage, though just opposite his, is barely visible; the woman’s face, furthermore, is alternately obscured and lit-with little or no attempt to mediate the two extremes.
In ‘The Denial of St. Peter’… by illuminating Peter, but not the soldier, the sense that Peter is being interrogated and pressured becomes heightened; it is almost as if a spotlight is on him, coercing him into giving a reply.
Peter, the soldier, and the woman are all painted with exceptional detail, exemplified by the soldier’s helmet, which is ornately and intricately decorated, and Peter’s face, which has distinct furrows and creases.
This again serves to highlight the fact that the three figures and their emotional tension are the central features of the work and that all else is ancillary”.
26 “Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: ‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted.
31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
32 Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others,
I also will deny before my Father in heaven.’”
We recall what we already saw last February, when we studied the introduction to the Gospel of Matthew:
“The writer of Matthew’s Gospel –belonging to the tradition of Levi, the Apostle, known as St. Matthew- was a catechist very knowledgeable about all the oral traditions and the written documents containing information about Jesus: the Gospel of Mark and certain scripts containing sayings of Jesus (known as the Q source)”.
Today’s text is found at the end of the second of the five blocks of the Gospel, which are organized following the Books of Moses (the Torah).
Jesus first preached the Kingdom, then He showed how to make that Kingdom present in the world through the miracle stories. And finally, the Gospel focuses on the Disciples and the expansion of the Kingdom.
Concretely: Chapters 9 and 10 are organized as follows:
10:1: Power given to the Disciples
10:2-4: List of the Disciples
The discourse contains three statements:
1. Do not be surprised
2. Do not be afraid
3. Do not be confused
Do not be Surprised
Jesus speaks of his own experience to instruct the Disciples about their own future relationship with the world: as Jesus has been rejected, so will they find opposition and trials, too.
Do not be Afraid
1. To listen
“Whatever I tell you in the secret place”
Before saying any word, the Disciple needs to listen before s/he speaks: the encounter with Christ takes place in the secret of the heart, in the hidden encounter with God in prayer. It is in prayer and in silence where the Christian discovers what God’s plan is.
Listening to God is the spiritual exercise that allows us to experience that we move to greater levels awareness and maturity, mostly when, during our darkest hours, trials and difficulties, we are able to trust and let God be God.
2. To Speak
In this moment of history when so much personal data is available to the public, today’s world is overly worried about privacy and personal information.
However, here, Jesus is not talking about being afraid of having private secrets, sins or misdeeds of the past being revealed. He refers to the Kingdom of God. Whatever will be uncovered and made known, is the option of the Disciples for the Kingdom of God. The Disciples of Jesus are neither afraid to proclaim the Kingdom nor to say that they belong to Christ and to the Christian community.
Even when things get difficult and Christians will be put on trial, their defense will be the perfect opportunity to give witness to their faith.
3. To Die
This text understands that the human person is made of Body and Soul and at the end of life, the Soul survives the Body.
When anyone would worry about saving the body and avoiding persecution, the interest of Jesus shifts to the Kingdom: the life with God.
The reason why one should not be afraid to die is because death has already been dealt with by God. Jesus, with his death and resurrection has purchased us for God. God has already taken care of us.
While the Gospel of Matthew speaks of selling two sparrows for one penny; the Gospel of Luke speaks of selling five sparrows for two pennies. The text should have said that four sparrows cost the double of two (four); however, we are told that there is a fifth one. The fifth sparrow seems to be a spare one, the one without value, an extra gift to encourage customers to buy four instead of two … . The text in Luke implies that if God takes care even of that extra sparrow with no value, how much more will care for His own child:
“God does not leave,
God does not forsake,
We are surrounded forever
By God’s loving care”.
Jesus will take the side of his Disciple
The concluding sentence about the defense of the Disciples in front of unbelievers reflects the Persecution of the First Christians. Jesus does not promise that we will not be condemned to death, but that in death, God will acquit us and thus we should face such trials with confidence and not disown His Holy Name.
“Here lies one who feared God so much that he never feared the face of any man”.
The Christian knows that disloyalty is worse than death, for once a person’s credibility is broken, what lies ahead is a meaningless life, void of trust and companionship.
And we well know that, had it not been for the blood shed by the First Christians, today we would have neither a Church nor the knowledge of Christ.
“The Christian witness is the one who knows no fear, because s/he knows that the judgements of eternity will correct the judgements of time”.
“Almighty God, give us grace to be not only hearers, but doers of your holy Word, not only to admire, but to obey your doctrine; not only to profess, but to practise your religion; not only to love, but to live your Gospel.
So, grant that what we learn of your glory we may receive into our hearts, and show forth in our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”.
Lambeth Conference, 1948
O Lord, My Heart Is Not Proud
By Margaret Rizza
“O Lord, my heart is not proud, Nor haughty my eyes. I have not gone after things too great, Nor marvels beyond me.
Truly I have set my soul In silence and peace; At rest, as a child in its mother's arms, So is my soul”.
Jesus instructs his Disciples, teaches them and guides them. How does God instruct, teach and guide me?
Can I recall any happy occasion that has led me to a greater awareness of being guided by God? Can I give thanks to God for that special moment?
Can I recall any difficult occasion that has led me to a greater awareness of being protected by God? Can I give thanks to God for that special moment?
Can I recall any moment in life when I felt I abandoned God and felt unable to come back to Him? How did God help me return to Him? Can I give thanks for that thing or person who made a difference in my life?
My faith is built upon the foundation of martyrs who did not hesitate to shed their blood for love of Christ. I ask God’s Spirit to give me the boldness to witness to my faith through a coherent way of life.
In our defense of the values of the Kingdom we will not fall short of God’s help because God’s grace will not abandon us as the Spirit of God will lead us.
I contemplate how Jesus is my teacher, my guide and my advocate in front of men and in front of God.
 1 Cor. 15:42-44: “So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body”.  Isa. 8:12-14: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. He will become a sanctuary, a stone one strikes against; for both houses of Israel he will become a rock one stumbles over—a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem”.  Luke 12:6: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight”.  Psalm 2: 11-12: “Serve the Lord with fear, with trembling kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Happy are all who take refuge in him”. 4 Macc.13:14-15: “Let us not fear him who thinks he is killing us, for great is the struggle of the soul and the danger of eternal torment lying before those who transgress the commandment of God”.  Dan. 12:2: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt”. Psalm 103:13: “As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him”.  BARCLAY, William, “The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. 1, Chapter 1-10”, p. 386.