Chapter & verse: John 18:25-27
Meanwhile, as Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked: “Are you another of his disciples?” But he denied it: “I am not,” he said. One of the high priest’s servants, a relation of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, insisted: “Did I not see you with him in the garden?” Once again Peter denied it; and at that moment a cock crowed.
After Jesus is arrested, all the disciples disappear into the night – except Peter. He has already shown extraordinary courage. Out in the garden, with soldiers all around him, he drew his sword to defend Jesus, putting himself in line to be arrested with him, or even killed on the spot. That flash of bravado was immediate – no hesitation. He was ready with his life. And he followed into the city while others ran away.
But the high priest’s courtyard proved a different kind of challenge. Maybe it was the cold and the long, long waiting. Maybe it was the flickering firelight – we all know how firelight illumines deeper places in us than sunlight. Maybe it was being alone, with all the other disciples scattered and gone. Maybe it was the memory of Jesus’ prediction about betrayal, one of the few familiar elements in an account of the Last Supper which is altogether different from the other Gospels. Peter had been shocked and baffled and hurt. Or, maybe it was a combination of all these things. But fear poked its head through Peter’s courage and grew until he sat there, a mass of apprehension. The spontaneous Peter is brave. The considered Peter is full of fear.
This is one of the most devastating stories in the Bible. A splendid hero turns out to be just like us. We too can be brave – so long as we don’t have to sustain it for too long. With a surge of courage we can say the noble thing, perform the selfless act, stand up for what we believe. But the long haul shows us what we’re really made of. Maybe we’re programmed to return to our comfort zones, because the longer we resist, the stronger the pull becomes to conform, to concede, to recant. Only the most determined of us hold out very long. There, in the high priest’s courtyard, the choice becomes stark. Admit that you are one of Jesus’ followers and the terror begins all over again. Deny him and maybe they’ll leave you alone to keep your lonely vigil. Then the cock crows. Devastating…
This is an extract from the April 2014 edition of Reform.