Peter sat outside in the courtyard waiting. He wanted to see what would happen, to hear the news make its way from inside the High Priest’s palace out to the people gathered there. He sat away from the others assembled there, trying to hide from prying eyes in the darkness. But it didn’t work. A servant girl came up to him and declares, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” There’s no question in her mind, this maid for Caiphas. She must have been there when Jesus was arrested at the garden given her utmost certainty on the whole thing.
A Palm Sunday Sermon based on Matthew’s Passion.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Peter responds forcefully. He says it loud enough so all the others waiting in the courtyard can hear it too. He gets up to change locations, and makes his way to the porch. That’s when another girl sees him, and says essentially the same thing: “This man was with Jesus.” Peter immediately responds, “I don’t even know the man.” But by now they’ve all started looking at him, talking amongst themselves.
There’s still no word from inside, when a bystander comes up and says to Peter, “Look, your accent gives you away. We know you were with Jesus.” He cursed and exclaims, “I don’t know who you are talking about!” “At that moment,” Matthew writes, “the cock crowed.” And Peter remembered the words of Jesus that before the rooster crowed, Peter would deny Jesus three times. “And,” Matthew writes, “Peter went out and wept bitterly.”
Peter, the one Jesus said his church would be built on crumbled under pressure not from those in authority, but their servants and an innocent bystander. He cursed even knowing Jesus when asked about his hometown. This rock of a disciple couldn’t take the heat. He utterly failed the test, and did exactly what Jesus said would happen.
He also couldn’t pass muster earlier in the evening when Jesus asked him to keep watch and pray because Jesus was so overwhelmed. Peter’s eyes grew heavy and instead of speaking with God on behalf of Jesus, he decided to nap. Three times Jesus came back and woke him up, instructing him to refocus and pray. And three times Peter dozes off.
Peter had talked a good game at the Last Supper. “Even if all fall away because of you, I will never fall away,” he tells Jesus. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you.” But that was just bluster. He couldn’t watch and pray for even an hour, and when challenged by a simple servant girl, he panicked. “I don’t know the man!” he says not once, but three times. One for each of the times he chose sleep over prayer.
Peter wasn’t even close to dying alongside Jesus.
This Lent I’ve been preaching on those questions posed by Frederick Buechner to help experience a more meaningful time in the wilderness. The questions are to help us consider who we are and who we have become in our lives. This Sunday Buechner puts forward the following questions: “Is there any person in the world or any cause that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?” We might be quick with an “Of course!” but we should heed Peter’s example. We too might talk a good game, but really, when the chips are down and our own necks are on the line, is there anyone or anything in this world we’d give up your life for?
What the question really comes down to is love. Who or what do you love with such extravagance that you’d trade your life for their well being? Would it include your family, or your co-workers? Would you give up your existence for a political party or your alma mater? Would a non-profit of your choosing garner enough of your sacrificial love that you’d offer the ultimate price?
We know what Jesus will choose, of course. For the Son of God, it isn’t just a few people, but all of us. He gives his life for the salvation of the world.
And we are not Jesus. We aren’t called to give our lives for the entire world. But we can become like him in opening ourselves up to the potential of a deep and abiding love that would cause us to be willing to stake our lives on someone or something else. Peter himself will change his response in the days ahead. After he heads out and weeps bitterly wishing he could take it back, his life is transformed a few days later. He indeed becomes the rock on which the church is built. He becomes the faithful disciple willing to stake his own life on the call of Jesus to love. He will, in fact, lose his life due to that love.
What might it be for you? Is there any person in the world or any cause that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for? Have you opened yourself up to expressing sacrificial love?