This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
Peter follows Jesus, only to deny him
12-17 Then the guard, with their captain and the Jewish officers, took hold of Jesus and tied his hands together, and led him off to Annas first, for he was the father-in-law to Caiaphas, who was High Priest that year. Caiaphas was the man who advised the Jews, “that it would be a good thing that one man should die for the sake of the people.” Behind Jesus followed Simon Peter, and one other disciple who was known personally to the High Priest. He went in with Jesus into the High Priest’s courtyard, but Peter was left standing at the door outside. So this other disciple, who was acquainted with the High Priest, went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought Peter inside. The young woman at the door remarked to Peter, “Are you one of this man’s disciples, too?” “No, I am not,” retorted Peter.
18 In the courtyard, the servants and officers stood around a charcoal fire which they had made, for it was cold. They were warming themselves, and Peter stood there with them, keeping himself warm.
19 Meanwhile the High Priest interrogated Jesus about his disciples and about his own teaching.
20-21 “I have always spoken quite openly to the world,” replied Jesus. “I have always taught in the synagogue or in the Temple where all the Jews meet together, and I have said nothing in secret. Why do you question me? Why not question those who have heard me about what I said to them? Obviously they are the ones who know what I actually said.”
22 As he said this, one of those present, an officer, slapped Jesus with his open hand, remarking, “Is that the way for you to answer the High Priest?”
23 “If I have said anything wrong,” Jesus said to him, “you must give evidence about it, but if what I said was true, why do you strike me?
24 Then Annas sent him, with his hands still tied, to the High Priest Caiaphas.
25 In the meantime Simon Peter was still standing, keeping himself warm. Some of them said to him, “Surely you too are one of his disciples, aren’t you?” And he denied it and said, “No, I am not.”
26 Then one of the High Priest’s servants, a relation of the man (Malchus) whose ear Peter had cut off, remarked, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?”
27 And again Peter denied it. And immediately the cock crew.
In the story of Jesus arrest and crucifixion, John shows only two disciples with the bottle to stay with the arrested Jesus; the “one whom Jesus loved” and Peter. We would like more information on this mysterious beloved disciple who is personally known to the High Priest, but none is given. Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus is contrasted with Jesus’ coolness under pressure. He stands by his words and actions, and remains calm even when he is abused. Peter however is caught unready three times. The betrayal and the crowing of the cock has been foretold by Jesus who understands the strengths and weaknesses of his chief disciple.
If we could stage – manage the occasions when our allegiance to Jesus is tested we might be able to stand firm. But of course, that’s not what happens. Suddenly, out of the blue in ways we couldn’t have predicted, we are challenged, made fearful and find ourselves denying Jesus by word or silence, action or inaction. This is especially probable when like Peter we are out of our comfort zone. Sometimes the mere threat of being unpopular or embarrassing can lead us to neglect our duty. Christian believers in the UK are not used to being under serious threats to their lives or livelihoods because of their faith. We can only speculate how we would cope with the threats that Egyptians, or Syrians or Pakistanis have to cope with all the time.
The threats we experience are more subtle. They may not involve the name of Jesus, but simply a pressure to conform to values or priorities we know are wrong, or to treat other people as negligible. You’d think by my stage of life and with my long experience as a believer, I might be better at dealing with these than when I was young. But no, I still get found out as a miserable coward from time to time.
So I can understand why the the Russian Orthodox Church might not find the bottle to denounce Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. It would at best make them unpopular with most Russians and at worst deprive them of state support. At present they remain solidly behind a leader whose policies may cause violence and death. Church leaders elsewhere in the world should urge them to speak out against Putin’s invasion and in favour of peaceful coexistence with a Ukraine which should decide its own future. On such matters, unlike issues such as homosexuality. the Russian Orthodox Church has been slow to speak.
This is a narrative which sheds light on the bit of the Last Supper story were they all ask “Is it me? Am I the traitor?” The answer to this question, as is shown by Peter’s behaviour and mine and …yours?….is always, yes. Other world teachers may have perfect disciples; Jesus only ever has traitors, looking for forgiveness and new courage. The image which heads this blog shows the intimacy and the distance between Judas and Jesus.