Luke 22: 54 – 62 Peter disowns Jesus
Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant-girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, ‘This man was with him.’
But he denied it. ‘Woman, I don’t know him,’ he said.
A little later someone else saw him and said, ‘You also are one of them.’
‘Man, I am not!’ Peter replied.
About an hour later another asserted, ‘Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.’
Peter replied, ‘Man, I don’t know what you are talking about!’ Just as he was speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the cock crows today, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.
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All four of the gospels tell this story. The other accounts are found here (Matthew 26: 69 – 75; Mark 14: 68 – 72; John 18: 15 – 18 and 25 – 27).
Let’s think about Peter.
Peter was the first of the disciples to realise and declare that Jesus was the Messiah, only to be rebuked by him for arguing against the journey to Jerusalem which was to lead to Jesus’ death.
Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ (Matthew 16:16)
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord! he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’ Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’ (Matthew 16: 22 – 23)
He was the disciple who walked on water to Jesus, only to lose confidence and start to sink, needing to be rescued by Jesus.
When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’
‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.’
‘Come,’ he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’ (Matthew 14: 26 – 31)
Today’s study passage is another occasion when Peter is ahead of the other disciples.
He follows Jesus as he is taken to the high priest’s house. He enters the courtyard, where there are people gathered. Doubtless many of the people there had been a part of the crowd who had apprehended Jesus. Peter joins them around a fire. He was surrounded by the enemies of Jesus. So far, he’s living up to his declaration during the Last Supper: “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
I don’t know whether he hoped to do anything practical to help Jesus; I think it was more a wish to stand beside the leader he loved and revered.
One thing about which I feel fairly certain is that Peter wasn’t praying, because when he was challenged as a follower of Jesus he answered with a lie. He didn’t run; his courage was not in question; but he lied about following Jesus. Even when he was challenged again, he brazened it out, denying his allegiance to Jesus. It wasn’t until he was challenged a third time – and the cock crowed – that he realised what he had done.
St Luke adds a detail that isn’t in the other gospels. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.
This implies that Jesus was outside and clearly visible at that particular moment. Peter saw his Lord captive. He realised suddenly the physical reality of what was happening. His eyes met those of Jesus, and he saw compassion and forgiveness. He saw the perfection of Jesus. Peter had given everything he had of courage and tenacity, and yet he had accomplished nothing except the denial of his Lord.
He went out and wept bitterly.
Peter is, in some ways, an archetypal figure. He is a hero, but a flawed one. He’s not a clever or wise man, but he has moments of great insight. He’s an ordinary, doubting human being, but he has moments of great faith. He’s no more courageous than most humans, but he followed Jesus faithfully; and eventually he followed him to the cross.
Peter is a human being. He’s one of us. He’s not perfect, but he places his faith in Jesus, and – ultimately – that’s all that matters. He tries his hardest, he repents when he makes a mistake, and he isn’t too proud to accept forgiveness, over and over again.
I don’t know about you, but I find that very encouraging.
Thank you for the example of St Peter. Help me, please, to do as he did – place my faith in Jesus, recognise when I sin and repent, and accept your forgiveness with thankfulness.
In Jesus name, Amen