Translation and commentary on John’s Gospel
JOHN 13: 36
Simon Peter says to him, “Lord, where are you going?”
Jesus answered, “At present, you can’t follow me where I am going; but later you will follow.”
Peter says to him, “Why can’t I follow you at present? I will risk my life for you!”
Jesus answered, “You’ll risk your life for me, will you? Amen, amen I tell you, the rooster won’t crow before you have disowned me three times!”
Again the author uses what I have called the bantering mode, which he used previously between Peter and Jesus and between the Samaritan woman and Jesus. It might almost be called the flirting mode, as it presents a dialogue in which the partner is not entirely direct with Jesus. Here Peter wants to gain favour with Jesus ahead of the other disciples but he is not being honest.
The story is part of the legend of Peter the great leader of the Jesus communities, martyred in Rome. Given that the legend is discreditable to Simon Peter and indeed the rest of the disciples, it is likely to have some measure of truth. As we shall see John makes special use of the number three in his retelling of the legend. (See chapter 21) It is of course that number which links Peter to the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
This Gospel presents Jesus as facing his arrest and death with calmness. He is not playing the hero, nor does he urge opposition to his enemies. In fact he concentrates on preparing his disciples for what will happen and for their future role as his missionaries.
For the gospel writers and especially for this author, acknowledging or disowning Jesus was not a religious or liturgical act but a public or political one: the disciple is facing the powers of the world which are strengthened by the Satan, the Adversary of God. Trust in Jesus is shown by standing at his side in the public arena. Following Jesus where he is going is not something that comes naturally even to his lead disciple.