Matthew 26:30-35: When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night: for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.’ Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all of the disciples.
Peter, Jesus’ most staunch supporter. The impulsive one. The first to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. He’s the one who seems to “get it” in a way that the others don’t. Jesus leans on Peter in a way he doesn’t lean on the others. He is the one that is always pulled aside for extra teaching. When Jesus talks to a smaller group of the twelve Peter is always included. It was always Jesus and Peter. And yet, in this most trying of times for Jesus, Peter becomes the denier. What is it in Peter that won’t allow him to stand by Jesus at the time Jesus needs him most? Is it Peter’s fear? Does he worry what other people will think about him or what will happen to him? Is he concerned about his own identity, about whether he’ll be cast out of the assembly that he has grown to be comfortable in. You wonder why? He’s already given up his profession and his family to follow Jesus, why not take this final step in declaring himself a follower of Jesus?
I was married to a woman when I first admitted to myself that I was trans. In fact, she was the first person to say to me, do you think you might be trans? She got it in a way that I didn’t even get it. She was my biggest supporter in the beginning. She promised to be there as I told my mother, as I came out in my seminary, as I began the process of medical transition. She traveled with me for my chest surgery (even though, as I found out later, she was having some doubts by this point) and cared for me in the aftermath. But after all of my transitioning, she decided that she was no longer attracted to me and that she couldn’t remain my wife. We parted ways.
She struggled with my change in identity. It was hard for her to be with someone who was male. While she supported my self-discovery she was unable to be partnered with someone like me. She felt invisible as I became invisible. Her queer identity was erased in a lot of ways by my transition. As I became more comfortable with being male and identifying less as trans, she felt more and more betrayed. And so despite our marriage vows and promises to one another, we needed to end the marriage.
I say all of this not to demonize her, but instead to illustrate how even the people we expect will be the most on board with our transition are sometimes the ones who will end up denying us. Not in the sense that they deny our identity (although sometimes that happens as well), but in the sense that they can’t partner with us as our new selves. There will be people in our lives who will “get it” but who won’t be able to stay in relationship with us. They will need to go their own way.
Now we know part of the end of the story with Peter; He and Jesus reconcile and Peter does become one of the leaders of the church. Peter does get to retain his ties to the Jewish community even as he attempts to reform it and preach Jesus’ life and message. The thing is, we don’t get to see how Jesus and Peter’s relationship plays out post-resurrection. We get glimpses in the reconciliation, but even in those moments there is hurt on both sides. Jesus tests Peter by asking him three times, “Do you love me?” That must have stung. It must have been hard for Peter to be reminded of how he had failed. You have to wonder what Jesus was thinking in that moment. Was he trying to get back at Peter? He must have known that asking that question and repeating it three times would have been painful for Peter. And I get it; there are moments when I wish I could ask people in my life that couldn’t stick around questions. Questions that might be painful for both of us, but questions that could maybe lead to reconciliation. So while there is a reconciliation moment I wonder if Peter and Jesus would have continued to hang out every day or if they would have needed some space.
In this situation both Jesus and Peter are justified in a lot of ways. Jesus absolutely has the right to be hurt by Peter’s betrayal, anyone would be hurt. And Peter had his reasons for denying Jesus. He was confused, he was hurt, he was scared, he felt like he was losing himself. While Peter could have handled it in a more constructive manner, the truth is that sometimes we do things that we need to do in ways that we might regret later. I can’t help but think that Peter regretted the way he went about distancing himself from Jesus.
For my partner and I neither one of us was in the wrong. I needed to transition. She wasn’t attracted to men and needed to be with a woman. Neither of those things is wrong, it was just unfortunate that we couldn’t be what the other one needed. While we can still be in relationship, the relationship needs to look a lot different than it once did. We aren’t in the same community anymore, we’re not part of each other’s inner circle in the same way. She still supports my transition, but not in the role of partner or wife. It’s not been easy for either of us, but in the end it has been what we both needed.
In all of our transitions there will be people who will not be able to handle our transition. People who will cut us out of their lives. There will be people we will need to cut ties with for our own mental health and safety. Those will not be easy conversations to have. Sometimes there will be a reconciliation that can happen, it might be months or even years later. And sometimes we will be able to remain in relationship with people but with different definitions; partners become friends, friends become acquaintances, and other relationships shift. It will be painful for all involved, and sometimes we will need to ask, “do you love me?” and hope the answer will be, “Of course, you know I do.”