Fear and Denial: Peter’s Story
Jesus’ road to the cross is well documented. The Last Supper, The Garden of Gethsemane, The Trials, and his final execution and resurrection are all, in and of themselves scenes from what some theologians call the “metanarrative” or “Great Story” that God is writing in the universe. While this concept is big, I’d like today to focus on a scene that gets, I feel, the wrong attention; I’m talking about Peter’s denial.
We all have had a long night now and again, tossing and turning in bed. A bad work day, a cup of coffee drank too late, a difficult phone call with a person close to you; all these and many more if you are a parent, are reasons to lose sleep. Rather than losing sleep, our brother, the Apostle Peter has had a rough night. After learning that the guy he’d been following for the last three years, over hill and dale, seen miracles happen, and finally acknowledged as Lord is a prisoner of the High Priest? That’s a tough night. Then when they bring the occupying force of Rome into the mix? Even tougher. Peter is scared. He loves Jesus very much: Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Matthew 26:33
Seriously though, Peter is in this for the long haul, even after Jesus tells him his machismo is going to hurt him: Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (and the disciples, not to be outdone) And all the disciples said the same.” Matthew 26:35
Here is where my first line of thinking about this comes from. We read but do not see the realities that are hidden in this moment. We need a more tangible way to understand this passage.
I’d like for you to think of a few people:
First, of a family member or friend you know that you spend a lot of time with.
Then, someone you look up to, who has a lot of wisdom but also cares deeply for you.
Now, I’d like you to think of your pastor- a spiritual advisor and teacher in your life.
Finally, think of, for a moment, all of that wrapped in one person: A Teacher, a friend, a confidant, a person that you’ve stayed up talking with into the wee hours of the morning- someone you can trust and that has earned your trust.
Now think of having a very intimate, special dinner, more special than even a birthday or anniversary. All of your close friends are there, you all know each other, and you are all close for different reasons. You feel safe and think to yourself, “I wish we’d done this years ago! This is so cool!” Then this prominent, yet close friend then starts to reveal to the group a truth that seems to go past time itself, of great importance. He then ends with saying that one of your friends, your very close friends, is a betrayer. Judas quietly gets up and you ask him, “Jude, where are you going?” But he never turns around. This cup and bread thing seems odd, but you know there’s significance. You can feel it.
Then the meal ends and you get up to leave, and that great friend comes over and asks you, “Can you come with me to the garden? I really need to pray, and it’s a little late.” You respond with, “of course.” and head with a few others to the Garden of Gethsemane. After setting up watch, having had great food and drink and had your fill, you’re getting sleepy.
You wake up to: And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?” Matthew 26:40. And then you fall asleep two more times. Awash with guilt, you awake to Jesus’ chiding and then he says something that gets your attention, “Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” Matthew 26:46.
You get freaked out.
Was this the betrayer that he was talking about at dinner?
What is going on?
Why is this night going so terribly wrong?
The temple guards show up, there’s a conversation, Judas walks up from the back of the group of guards kisses Jesus on the cheek.
Then the guards seize Jesus. Seize isn’t a nice word; there’s force involved.
Peter’s anxiety reaches a fever pitch and having his Fight or Flight kick in and yanking his sword out, Peter swings to kill and misses, cutting off Malcus’ ear.
Peter is trying so hard to be the man he promised to be.
To be there, to the end.
To show his allegiance.
And now the man, Jesus, who he promised so heartily to protect, is rebuking him in front of men that are both his friends and what seems to be Jesus’ enemies.
Peter feels shame.
Peter feels guilt.
Peter feels hurt.
Peter gets mad.
Peter gets scared.
Peter lives in an occupied country that has guards all over the city.
They treat us like dung.
The High Priests are in line with occupiers and keep us oppressed by having all these rules that we have to follow that only the rich can truly have the ability to really practice and follow.
Finally someone comes that could be the way out of all this, speaking in parables and leading us, like a commander.
He changed my life.
He helped me to see that God still cares for me.
More than just another sacrifice.
More than just another trip to synagogue.
He came to speak.
Isn’t it time?
Why doesn’t he call the angels?
When he asked us who we think his is, I told him- “You are the Christ.” Matthew 16:16
And so Peter makes a choice.