31 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “ Tonight you will all fall away because of me. For it is written, I will hit the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will go off in all directions, 32 But after I’m raised up, I’ll go before you to Galilee. ”
Peter's Denial of Jesus
33 Peter replied, “ If everyone else stumbles because of you, I’ll never stumble. ”
34 Jesus said to him, “ I assure you that, before the rooster crows tonight, you will deny me three times. ”
35 Peter said, “ Even if I must die alongside you, I won’t deny you. ” All the disciples said the same thing. (Matthew 26:31-35 CEB)
Even if everyone else abandons you, I won’t. I’ll stay by your side until the bitter end. This was Peter’s response to Jesus’ prediction that in the coming hours the disciples would abandon him. Jesus seems to have understood only too well that things were coming to a head, and he wanted to prepare the disciples for what was coming. Peter, who was rather impulsive, often threw himself into the thick of things. He was a risk taker, but more often than not he fell short of his goal. Of course, that didn’t stop him from stepping out in front. When Jesus asked the disciples to say who he was, Peter gave the good confession, and then demonstrated that he and Jesus had a different understanding of what it meant to be the Christ (Mt. 16:13-20). But Jesus didn’t reject Peter – though he did refer to him as Satan (perhaps not so much Peter as the temptation to follow Peter’s “advice.”).
Now, as the time of Jesus’ betrayal drew near, Peter assures Jesus that he will stand firm, but Jesus knows his friend all too well. He tells Peter, before the cock crows announcing the dawn of the morning light, you will have denied me three times. Jesus isn’t condemning Peter he’s just saying that this is what will happen.
The key to this brief passage of scripture isn’t the prediction that the flock will scatter or even that Peter will deny Jesus. The key to the passage comes in the middle, between the two predictions. Jesus offers a command: “After I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Jesus recognizes the frailty of their faith, but then gives a word of direction. After I’ve been resurrected, I’ll meet you in Galilee. Take heart, even though you might scatter, I will be there to gather you back to myself.
As we draw closer to Holy Week, it is good to remember our own frailty, to remember how often we hold our tongue rather than speak out in support of the common good. It is good to remember that we are as likely as the disciples to make promises we fail to keep. We too scatter when things difficult. We might even deny we know Jesus on occasion, but the good news is that Jesus says to us – though you’ll deny me, I’ll meet you up north and we’ll get back to work. In the midst of betrayal there is this promise of grace that sustains our lives, and without it we would fall into despair (as did Judas). The difference between Peter and Judas is not in their betrayals of Jesus, but in their ultimate responses. What Peter seemed to understand better than did Judas was the grace that Jesus extended to the disciples and to the world. May we understand this offer of grace, not so we can abuse it (cheapening it by playing games with God), but as the foundation for stepping out in faith and taking the necessary risks to live fully into the realm of God. Fear of failure keeps most of us from venturing out on the path of faith, but Peter discovered that when we step out in faith there is one there to lift us up when we fall, so that we might continue the journey into maturity.
Modified from devotion for April 13, 2011, published in the CWCC Lenten Devotional, edited by John McCauslin. Image borrowed from Internet Church of Chapel Hill.