(watch here: https://youtu.be/1f5rF7DKRKQ)
12So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. 13First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.
15Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 17The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ 18Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing round it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.
19Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.’ 22When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ 23Jesus answered, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?’ 24Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
25Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ 26One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ 27Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.
As I reflected on this reading about Peter denying Christ three times, I couldn’t help but recall the funny exchange between a lawyer and his witness. The lawyer asked, “Did you actually see the accident?” “Yes, sir,” responded the witness. “How far away were you when the accident happened?” “Thirty-one feet, six and one quarter inches.” The lawyer thought he could entrap the witness by discrediting his calculations. “Well, sir, will you tell the jury how you knew it was exactly that distance?” “Because when the accident happened I took out a tape and measured it. I knew some stupid lawyer would ask me that question.”
Unlike that clever witness, Peter wasn’t a very reliable witness. He had known Jesus! He had walked alongside Jesus all those months ministering to the sick and wounded. Peter had declared Jesus his own personal Lord and Savior. And yet when the time came to testify to his relationship, Peter denied, denied, denied. I suppose you could argue that he was a reliable witness in that he testified precisely how Jesus had foretold he would. But even so, Peter was a poor witness to Christ. He denied having any type of relationship with him even though he had one of the closest relationships as Jesus’ ‘rock.’ Peter wasn’t just a disciple, he was the disciple upon whom Jesus expected the entire church would be built. Yeah, Peter knew Jesus alright!
But Peter was also just a man plagued with fear and doubt. Peter saw how his Lord had been unjustly arrested in the middle of the night and brought before the Jewish high priest for an illegal interrogation. If they could do that to his Lord and Savior, a man who by no means deserved such treatment, then they could surely round up Peter and put him through similar treatment. And maybe there were some elements of Peter’s past that might justify an arrest and interrogation. Peter was understandably afraid. Who among us wouldn’t have clammed up had we seen Jesus unjustly arrested before our own eyes? Fear is just a part of life. We can’t help being afraid sometimes, especially when we find we have no place to run. The old “fight or flight” response in dangerous situations except “flight” is no longer an option. And some things we’re unable to fight so then we’re just left with being afraid. Peter couldn’t fight the religious leaders and he tried running away from them but bystanders in the crowd knew who he was. Luckily, their testimonies weren’t seriously considered and Peter was able to slip away unarrested and uninterrogated.
So why are we dwelling on Peter’s denial the third week into this season of Lent? Sure, it’s a part of the Passion narrative and helps prepare us for the readings of Holy Week. But is that the only reason, just to give us a foreshadow of what’s to come in 3 weeks? Perhaps Peter’s witness, or lack thereof, can help prepare us in other ways. Believe it or not, we are all called to account eventually. Better yet, our belief is called to account. And not just on that day when we die and stand before the throne and asked to account for how we lived our lives here in this world. No, our belief is called to account in many small ways each and every day. Each and every day that we wake up and set about doing our daily tasks, we must make decisions and how we make those decisions reflects how we believe. Do we do nothing with our days other than basic bodily functions like eating and sleeping? Do we work or play our days away? Do we develop relationships with others or do we stick primarily to ourselves? Do we deepen our relationships with God? Underneath all these decisions we make are beliefs; beliefs about who we are, about the world around us, about who God is and what He expects of us.
Peter’s belief was revealed in how he acted. Peter was afraid which meant he didn’t trust in God’s ability to provide. He didn’t trust in Jesus’ ability to take care of himself. He didn’t trust in Jesus’ ability to take care of him. Peter’s fear revealed his lack of trust, lack of belief in God. Perhaps this is why we hear him denying Jesus over and over and over again and we can’t help getting angrier and angrier at him. We can’t help judging him for his lack of trust and yet we know how strong fear and doubt can be at times. All the unknowns of life in this world can create insurmountable fear and doubt. But Jesus came into the world to lead us through such fear and doubt. All we have to do is keep our eyes on him and no fear or doubt is too strong to be overcome by his hope and love.
So if our beliefs are challenged each and every day in large and small ways, then it is unavoidable that we become witnesses. Each of us must either testify to his love in our lives or deny it as Peter had done. As we continue through this introspective season of Lent, let us choose to testify to God’s love and presence in our lives. Let us choose to proclaim it unafraid of the consequences. God will provide, God will protect, God will take care of us! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.