Yesterday we talked about the look Jesus gave Peter after Peter denied Jesus three times. We know that Peter later met with Jesus and went on to be the leader of the disciples, the early Christians, and much, much more.
Thank heaven, history doesn’t judge Peter by his one act of cowardice, nor do I think Peter gave a hoot about his legacy. He overcame his shortcomings to become one of the most admired persons of all time. I also say thank heaven that Peter didn’t live in a time of social media and 24 hour news cycles. Imagine the headlines, “Peter denies Jesus. Peter resigns as leader to spend more time fishing.”
I also am glad that there isn’t a movement to remove statues and paintings of Peter from our churches because people want to hold Peter accountable for his moment of weakness. “Ridiculous,” one might say to this idea. Well, maybe not.
Students at Princeton want Woodrow Wilson’s name expunged from the campus and a mural of him taken down. Similar debates are ongoing about Jefferson and George Washington because they owned slaves, and President Jackson for his treatment of American Indians. I understand the difficulty of honoring historical figures who hardly honored segments of humanity and in some cases enslaved and exploited.
So what are we to do with historical figures who did much good, but also fail to meet today’s standards? Richard Cohen, columnist for The Washington Post offered:
What’s lacking in the Princeton debate over Wilson, and similar debates elsewhere is an appreciation of the word “and.” Instead “but” is too often substituted, so that a person becomes one thing or another — not two things at once.
Still we have an obligation to place historical figures in the context of their times and to accord them what they, in some instances, did not accord others: understanding. Woodrow Wilson was not one thing or another. He was one thing and another. It’s a lesson Princeton should teach.
Peter’s denial cannot be read outside of the context that he feared for his life, and we are all the better for it because he could from that moment on talk about God’s forgiveness and mercy from personal experience. Peter’s denials are part of who he was, as our own shortcomings are part of who we are. God loves the whole package.