“Peter,” Jesus replied, “the truth is, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”
“No!” Peter insisted. “Not even if I have to die with you! I will never deny you!”
Matthew 26:34-35 (NLT)
I am a highly opinionated person… in small groups. Ask my parents, Frank, my close friends: They know I have strong opinions about most things – from clothing options to food choices to political stances. I read a lot and know just enough about quite a few topics to have a semi-founded argument. I think one of my love languages may be friendly conversational debate.
In large groups, it’s a different story. I don’t feel comfortable engaging in controversial conversation with people I don’t know well. Partly, I don’t want to unintentionally offend someone. I feel that healthy debate and sharing of opinions best happens when trust has been built. Otherwise, it’s not a conversation but simply telling ideas. Partly, I’m not an expert and there’s always someone who knows more about a subject. Why not let them be the expert they are? Partly, it’s fear. What if I’m wrong? What if the conversation becomes uncomfortable? It’s not that I don’t talk, but I pad my ideas and try to balance in the happy middle.
Peter is the disciple I most connect with, and I wonder if it’s that we share similar conversation styles. In small groups, Peter is highly opinionated. He boldly declares Jesus is the Messiah (Matthew 16:16); He declares that he will never desert Jesus (26:33); and he promises to keep watch as Jesus prays in Gethsemane (26:37). In the small , safe group of disciples, Peter proclaims his loyalty to Jesus.
After Jesus is betrayed and arrested, Peter stays close, waiting in the courtyard as Jesus is humiliated and beaten by Caiaphas (Matthew 26:69). And yet, when it comes time to talk about Jesus at this moment, he denies their relationship. Even after Jesus tells him that before the night is over, Peter will deny their friendship three times.
I can empathize with Peter. I’m not sure I would have acted differently. In the face of a volatile situation, in front of a crowed of potentially hostile strangers, I would most likely deny any knowledge of Christ. Had other disciples been with him or if they had been together in a trusted environment, things may have looked different. But Peter was alone, in a crowd, after his friend had been arrested. I’m impressed he stayed as close as he did.
When I was in middle and high school, youth pastors liked to remind us that any time we didn’t stand up for Jesus, we were denying him, just like Peter. If someone swore or smoked or didn’t go to church, it was our job to correct them and tell them about Jesus. To do any less would be to deny Christ. I was a terrible Christian on that front. I couldn’t ever bring myself to correct others, so I ended up looking like I condoned all those terrible behaviors. I was often complimented that I didn’t act like other Christians because of this lack of judgement, and I always left wondering if I was no better than Peter.
The pendulum swung and in college, I felt denied Christ in a different way. I had become so tired of being told to tell others about Jesus, I just let things be. Many people knew I was a Christian, but many didn’t. Once, in Nepal, a fellow volunteer said she could just tell I was a Christian, but appreciated that I didn’t tell others. As I’ve grown up, I’ve found that sometimes, being quiet can be the best testimony. But, sometimes, it’s good to tell people. At Christmas, a discussion came up about how horrible and judgmental all pastors, all churches, and all Christians behaved toward gay and lesbian people. It would have been easy to go into the other room, to a less threatening conversation. I decided to speak up, not to defend all Christians, but to tell part of our church story.
Now, with twenty years between me and those youth pastors, I see that to not judge others doesn’t equate to denying Jesus. And, I see the grace Jesus gave to Peter. He didn’t tell Peter that he was a terrible person for denying him. He simply told him the events of that evening. Earlier, he also told Peter that he was the rock on which the Church would be built (Matthew 16:18). I’m not saying that anytime I deny Christ, he is building his Church, but maybe I need to extend more grace to myself. Maybe I need to realize that denial isn’t black and white. Peter went on to be a founder of the Church and I wonder if his experience in that courtyard gave him more courage later.
As we end Holy Week, which character in the Easter story most resonates with you?
Linked with Convergent’s #storiesofeaster.