Peter followed Jesus, albeit distantly and cautiously. Nevertheless, unlike other disciples (including the “young man”) in Mark’s narrative, Peter did follow. The weight of his earlier adamant insistence that he would die with Jesus as well as his natural impetuousness emboldens him to warm himself at the same fire where the guards, who arrested Jesus and would shortly torture him, sat.
The Sanhedrin, due to the early morning predawn hours as well as its secrecy, had convened at the high priest’s home.
The setting is important because it shapes the narrative in a dramatic way. Just as Peter followed Jesus into courtyard of the high priest’s house where it would be obvious what was happening, he slowly extricates himself from the situation by movement out of the house. His three denials are portrayed as three steps away from Jesus. Mark emphasizes that last step by Peter’s own insistent denial.
|1st Denial||Courtyard||Servant Girl||“You were with Jesus”||Denied it!|
|2nd Denial||Gateway||Girl to Bystanders||“He is one of them”||Denied it!|
|3rd Denial||Gateway||Bystanders||“You are a Galilean”||Self-Imprecation|
The accusers identify Peter as a disciple of Jesus. He was “with Jesus” of Nazareth. He was “one of (ek) them” (repeated twice!)—he belonged to the community of disciples that followed Jesus. He was a Galilean rather than a Jerusalemite—he came from the region where the trouble started.
Peter, the most adamant follower of Jesus—perhaps even the one you would most likely say he would never betray him, denied Jesus three times. At first his denial is seemingly a lighthearted dismissal of the accusation: “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” It is a deflection, but he feels the heat. He backs away from the fire (literally and figuratively) to the gate. Perhaps he thinks he might need to make a quick exit.
At the gate the servant girl renews the accusation with a more specific identifier, but this time she tells others about Peter rather than talking to Peter directly. Peter was not only “with” Jesus (some kind of general association perhaps), but he was “one of them.” He belonged to that group. He is a disciple, a follower! Peter denied it and presumably Mark wants us to think that he denied it in a similar way. Peter is still deflecting. He is struggling to confess his faith but as yet he is not yet in full denial.
The third occasion, however, evokes a tirade from Peter. The bystanders repeat the second accusation of the servant girl and they do so with emphasis. “Certainly” (truly!), they broadcast, “you are of (ek) them”—you belong to Jesus’ group, his circle of disciples. Peter then curses, swears and emphatically denies. This is different from the first two. There is no deflection here; there is no lawyer-speak. It is an explicit disclaimer with a self-imprecation (he anathematizes himself). His “curse” is not the four-letter variety but a self-condemnation. “If I am lying,” he essentially says, “may God send me to Hell.” He swears that it is true with an anathema. “If I am lying, may I be cursed!”
Then the cock crowed twice.
Then it dawned on Peter what had just happened.
And, falling apart, he wept.
Ever been there with Peter? Ever had a moment, an addiction, an obsession in which you were so caught up as in a vortex that you were not fully conscious of what you were doing and how it undermined everything you held dear? Sin—including compulsive addictions—can be so overwhelming that we act before we think. We act in the moment rather than from the depths of our commitments. We react rather than respond. We deny when we should have confessed. We sin when we know better.
When it dawns on us that this is what we have done. We weep and feel the depths of a brokenness previously unrecognized. We see ourselves in a new way.
Perhaps we think that God could never use us again. Perhaps we think we are irreparable. Perhaps we imagine that our discipleship was only an illusion.
We are Peter and Peter is us. We often deny what we should confess but God retells the story of redemption through us nonetheless. Mark’s narrative is Peter’s story. Peter told it to him. It is a confession, yes, but it is also redemption.