Have we understood enough to tell the truth?
Tomorrow I am leading our mid-week service of Morning Prayer, for which the lectionary Gospel is Luke 22:54-end – Peter’s denial of Christ in the courtyard and Christ’s appearance before the elders. I haven’t been able to give as much time as I would like to producing a ‘sermon’ so the following is more by way of a reflection, in which you are welcome to share:
Then seizing Jesus, the temple guards and elders led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them.
Big brave Peter, he may have been the only one who dared to stay within sight of Jesus for this long. He kept his distance till the crowd who had arrested Jesus settled in the courtyard, and then he crept in to sit among them. Where are the rest of Jesus’ friends, Peter’s friends, those other disciples?
Peter is getting a taste of what it means to take risks for Jesus. He has told Jesus that he would go with him to prison and even to death (22:33) and it seems like he’s trying to carry out his promise – even if a little half-heartedly. Perhaps he thinks by being there physically he can in some way offer company or strength to his Master in this horrible situation.
And yet, Peter can’t seem to be there and remain inconspicuous. Perhaps its the way he looked or the way he was dressed (possibly still covered by the dirt of the road from Galilee). Perhaps it was his accent – like we’d recognise a Scouser or even a even a ‘ampshire ‘og like me! More likely there were just so many people who had been watching Jesus, seeing what would happen next, especially if they worked in or around the temple and religious authorities, that Peter’s face is known as one who is often at Jesus’ side.
I wonder, have we been recognised? Have we been spotted among the crowds for who we are – a follower of Jesus? What does it feel like?
“Woman, I don’t know him,”…
“I am not one of them!”
“Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Big brave Peter… does his nerve fail? The man who will be the rock on which the church is built, crumbling.
He was possibly just trying to stick it out near to Jesus for as long as he could – without risking too much! I wonder why? Is it really for Jesus’ sake that he’s there, or for his own? Is he needing to cling to the presence of Jesus in the hope of understanding the truth of what his friend has been saying? Perhaps Peter is hoping for some further revelation of what Jesus has been talking about, or to witness another miracle, something that he can boast to the others he was there to see?
Yet, he can’t turn his actions into words. We’re all used to the saying “actions speak louder than words” but in Peter’s case, it’s not true is it! His words actually speak far louder than his actions – and they are the wrong words! They are lies that show he doesn’t understand the truth. Peter breaks his word to Jesus, denies his relationship with Jesus in front of other people, and in doing so, denies that relationship before God.
How much do we cling to Jesus’ presence in such a way that we fail to proclaim the truth of our relationship with him to the wider world?
Just as Peter was speaking, the rooster crowed, and the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.
Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”
And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Big brave Peter. It wasn’t fear that drove him from the courtyard – it was failure and shame, and the knowledge that Jesus knew about it. Because of course, Jesus was there.
Somewhere in the courtyard, among all that was happening to him, Jesus was aware of Peter. He would have understood the sort of pressure that Peter had put himself under by being there. Even though he may not have been able to hear what was being said, Jesus would probably have recognised Peter’s voice, and tone of Peter’s third exclamation!… And, if Peter could hear the cock crow, so could Jesus; Peter wasn’t the only one who remembered Jesus’ prophesy of a few hours before!
Do we need to wonder what Jesus tried to convey in that look he gave Peter?
I know you’ve denied me like I said you would, but remember my other words from earlier tonight, because in them lies my task for you: “When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
I understand how much your own failure hurts you, but it hurts me too, because it means you still don’t really get what I’m doing here, and what I expect of you.
Let that be a lesson to you young man, that you will never forget! You must not forget it, because it is a lesson you will need to teach others in the weeks to come.
I know you’ve failed me, but I still love you.
Jesus’ cared for Peter in that moment of Peter’s failure, because he loved him; and he needed him to live with the failure long enough to understand it, and then receive the forgiveness that would come and reveal the whole truth about Jesus, so that he, Peter, could explain it’s importance to others.
However close we’re sitting to Jesus, do we really understand how much he is aware of each one of us? Do we know how much he cares, and understands? Do we know how much he expects of us, the task which we have been given?
Jesus is led before the council. “If you are the Christ,” they say, “tell us.”
Jesus answers them with these words:
“From now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”
So they exclaimed “Then you are the Son of God!”
And Jesus replies “You are right in saying that I am.”
Big brave Peter… isn’t there now!
But we still see and hear what Jesus had to suffer. We still know that Jesus doesn’t have to tell the authorities who he is, because he makes them work it out for themselves.
They know they are making him suffer, and they are probably enjoying their success – after all they’ve been trying long enough to get him to say enough to incriminate himself. But in doing so, they actually succeed in being the ones who proclaim Jesus for who he is, as well as being the means by which his place as God’s Son is to be fully realised. And the irony isn’t lost on Jesus!
All of Jesus’ ministry; his words and actions, his parables and miracles, the time spent sat on hillsides patiently teaching, are not going to be enough for those who need him most to really understand. Even when his enemies appear to hit the nail on the head, they don’t understand its significance for them – they just gleefully celebrate the fact that he’s finally given them the means by which to get rid of him. They don’t realise that theirs will be the final act that enables Jesus to reveal to the world who he really is.
Have you ever wondered how, even with Peter no longer there to witness what is happening, we know what happened and what was said? Someone was there who, perhaps later, replayed the scene in their mind, heard again the words, saw their significance with what was to happen next, and finally understood enough to tell the truth.
Would it have been us?