Peter makes for an easy target in the gospel of John.
When you read chapter 18 — the account of Jesus’s arrest and trial before the high priest — you just can’t help but to judge him. One minute, he’s cutting off people’s ears in a misguided effort to defend Jesus in the garden, and the next, he’s denying being a disciple of Jesus while he awaits of the outcome of Jesus’s first trial.
Wishy-washy much? It’s a more than a little hard to believe that this is the guy who will later become the leader of the Church.
But what if we’ve been reading this story all wrong — at least in John’s version? What if Peter isn’t actually being wishy-washy here? What if he’s just being honest?
What if he tells the people gathered outside of the high priest’s house that he isn’t a disciple of Jesus because in this moment, he really doesn’t know? What if Jesus’s arrest has turned Peter’s world upside-down?
It was a pretty common belief back then that the Messiah would be a military leader who would free Israel once and for all by defeating the Romans, and Jesus can’t exactly do that if He’s dead, right?
So, what if this story is less about one man’s weakness in the face of questioning than it is about how God has completely upended Peter’s expectations, and now, he has to figure out if he’s still in or not?
When you think of it that way, that judgment disappears, doesn’t it?
God is nothing if not surprising. I would go so far as to say that going against the grain is how God functions in the world. He’s constantly butting in and proving us wrong — whether that’s by coming to earth as a humble peacemaker who dies on a cross, or by telling us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.
I know that I’ve read stuff in the Bible or felt the Holy Spirit moving me in certain directions, and thought to myself, “Well, I don’t want to do that!” God is always pushing us outside of our comfort zones.
In a world where pride, violence, disgrace, revenge, and selfishness always seem to win the day, God is calling us to peace, love, humility, grace, mercy, and community.
So, the question that Peter’s denial asks us is, “Are we willing?” Are we willing to let God tell us that our long-held beliefs and that our values might be wrong? Are we willing to sit in the wreckage of our pride, and to figure out where God is asking us to go next?
Are we willing to have open hearts and open minds where God is concerned, and to allow Him to surprise us? Are we willing to do the counter-cultural things that God is calling us to do? Are we willing to take that first step towards a true faith? Are we willing to be Jesus’s disciples?
Considering all that God asks us to give up and to take up — the self-sacrifice that comes with being a follower of Jesus — are we still in?
I hope that you will take some time this week to consider these questions, Friends, and to sit with them.
Growth heavily depends on our willingness to think about what God is asking us to do, and what we are actually doing. May we reassess, may we wrestle, and may we listen.
Hopefully, we’ll find ourselves refreshed, renewed, and ready to follow Jesus into our next chapters, wherever that might be.
And no matter what loving, grace-filled twist God throws at us, I pray that we will be all in
Hannah Lutz is Pastor of Ada Chapel Friends Meeting.