Fourth Station: Jesus is Denied by Peter
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. One of the maids came over to him and said, "You too were with Jesus the Galilean." But he denied it in front of everyone, saying, "I do not know what you are talking about!" As he went out to the gate, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, "This man was with Jesus the Nazorean." Again he denied it with an oath, "I do not know the man!" A little later the bystanders came over and said to Peter, "Surely you too are one of them; even your speech gives you away." At that he began to curse and to swear, "I do not know the man." And immediately a cock crowed. Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: "Before the cock crows you will deny me three times." He went out and began to weep bitterly. (Matthew 26: 69-75)
The scene now changes, and the focus moves away from Jesus to Peter who is in the courtyard outside of the Chamber. Peter had spent three years in the company of Jesus and in that time had been transformed from a rough, parochial fisherman into one of Jesus’ key disciples. Peter, under Jesus’ leadership, was changed, he was a Kingdom man now. He feared nothing – not Jesus’ invitation to supernaturally walk on the waves with him, nor the mob in the Garden threatening Jesus with swords and clubs.
Yet the clay of Peter’s life was still on the potter’s wheel, God was working on him still, fashioning him, refining him. The flaws apparent in the clay, though invisible to Peter, were obvious to the Potter. Patient, gentle hands were at work on the fabric of his life, God was focused not on what was, but on who Peter would become. This is God’s way with us all. God does not call perfect people to work for Him, He calls us as we are, warts and all, and sets about making us into who we are meant to be.
Was Peter imperfect, certainly, the Gospels reveal that yet God never exposes our flaws to embarrass us, rather He invites us to witness the transformation that comes when we walk with Jesus. What we see in Peter’s transformation from fishing net to Pentecost should encourage us all to believe that the best is yet to come.
Yet there is a moment, here in the courtyard when Peter’s greatest flaw was uncovered. Under the brash exterior there lay a toxic bubble of self-love, of self-preservation. For all that Peter said in his bold, brash statements, he was not yet abandoned to God, not fully surrendered in the way that he needed to be, to become the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit on the day on which the Church would be birthed.
“You were with him in the Garden, I recognize you”, said one. “I’m sure it was you that attacked someone with a sword”. “NO!” said Peter, “I wasn’t there, I don’t know Him”. A young girl speaks out, “You were with Him” “NO!” said Peter,” you’re mistaken, I don’t know this man”. “Hey man, but your accent, I recognize it, you are from Nazareth”.
With that Peter completely lost it. He forgot who he was, he forgot why he was there, he forgot his promises to Jesus to stand with him to the end. He let out who he used to be, his past gained control of his mouth and he began to “curse and swear”. “I DON'T KNOW HIM!”, he shouted. As his voice trailed off, a rooster’s crow broke the silence.
There is one fragment that Luke adds at this point, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter” Luke 22:61 We don’t have any details here, was Jesus visible to Peter throughout this exchange, could Jesus hear the conversation? All we know is that Jesus, surrounded by threats of violence, found a moment to look at Peter.
That look. Immediately Jesus’ words echoed in his mind "Before the cock crows you will deny me three times.". The flaw was exposed, Peter saw it now, he had been blind to it for so long. He began to weep, deep sobs welled up within him. It was all over now, Jesus had seen his weakness, He had warned him, yet Peter had rebuffed His warning, he was confident Jesus was wrong.
Often, when our flaws are exposed, the pain we feel overshadows the face of Jesus. We recoil within, emotions take hold, our “old man” our old nature, rises up to condemn us and point its accusatory finger in our face. The enemy of our soul wades in to remind us of the past in order to reinforce the idea that we are failures with no hope of redemption. His words, of course, are lies, but we swallow them anyway and bury ourselves in self-loathing.
Peter was a broken man, yet what he didn’t understand was that its broken men and women that build God’s Kingdom.
Later, after the Resurrection, Jesus looked into Peter’s eyes once more. “Peter, do you love me? Then feed my lambs” It was an invitation, not a rejection, it was his commissioning to service, a look that said, “Peter, embrace your brokenness and follow me”. Sometimes healing begins when the night is darkest, Peter was experiencing that now. What he believed was a disqualification in the courtyard was now a new beginning. He saw it now in Jesus’ eyes. The look that he saw in the courtyard was love, not disappointment, nor rejection, it was pure love. In that look Jesus had been communicating, “Peter, I know your weaknesses, I see your faults, but I love you, now, its time to move on, to become who you are supposed to be, broken you may be right now, but the healing has begun”.
Our darkest days can become our brightest beginnings – if we would just raise our heads and look into the eyes of Jesus.