Jesus predicts it in three different ways. It happens three times. And Jesus spends three days in the tomb because of it.
Peter’s denial of Jesus.
It’s a pivotally important moment that sometimes we lose track of in the accelerating cascade of events following the Last Supper that leads to Calvary.
But it contains such spiritual riches for us, even though it forces us to confront our own deepest fears and weaknesses.
Let’s begin by reflecting on Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial. The accounts in Matthew and Mark are almost identical but for one or two words. Here’s how Mark relates it:
“Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though all become deserters, I will not.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ But he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same.”
John’s account is briefer, albeit with a haunting rhetorical question from Jesus:
“Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”
And then we have Luke, one of the synoptics but oddly the outlier in how he portrays this incident:
“‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’”
They vary in their details, but the painful crux of the matter remains the same: Peter will deny Jesus three times before the cock crows.
Peter cannot fathom it.
Hasn’t he been faithful to Jesus these three long years?
Didn’t he leave his home and family and livelihood for Jesus?
Hasn’t he stuck by Jesus when they were hungry and homeless on the road? When the crowds crushed them and demanded to be healed, fed, taught, long after Jesus and the twelve were completely exhausted?
Hasn’t Peter been faithful even now, when the religious authorities are closing in?
Why would Peter abandon him now—Peter, who was the one to proclaim Jesus the Messiah and was called the Rock of the Church for it? Continue reading