14:26-31 – One of the truly marvelous things about the Gospels, which derive from the disciples’ own teaching-authority, is their honesty. Mark, in particular, shows no hesitation in portraying all of the disciples as bumbling idiots, and none more so than Peter. Astonishingly, according to reliable early church traditions, the Gospel of Mark was based on Peter’s own reflections of the life of Jesus. So Peter, for all his foibles and failings, had the humility to present himself as he truly was, and in this story it comes out with shocking clarity. Jesus predicts to the disciples that they will all fall away. He says this to preface his encouraging instruction that after he has risen, he will go on ahead of them to Galilee. Jesus, it seems, was letting them know about their failure in advance, not to forestall it, but rather to assure them that despite it, they would still be his disciples, and he would rise again, and they could follow him again, right back on their old beloved stomping-grounds in Galilee, where they had started. It’s a message of profound encouragement in the face of a fearful time. The disciples, as they usually do, manage to miss the point entirely, and instead fixate on the troubling prediction of their falling away. How often do we, too, miss what the Lord is trying to do in our lives by way of encouragement and inspiration, because we are too fixated on our own worries, fears, and vanities? Peter speaks for the group (or, rather, against the group, since he separates himself by saying, “Even if all fall away, I will not”) in protesting this prediction. But Jesus repeats it, and in a far more specific form—Peter will deny him three times before the cock crows twice. Peter responds with his habitual bluster, and proclaims his loyalty to Jesus to the death. Although he perhaps would have done better to respond with obedient sorrow than with the fire of pride, his sentiment is commendable enough: he truly wants to be true to Jesus, and not to disown him. But it’s one thing to pledge one’s devotion when things are going well, and quite another to follow it through when difficulties arise. How many times have we pledged to abandon our besetting sins, but then found ourselves feeling far less powerful against them when actually facing down the teeth of our temptation?
Note to My Readers: from mid-June to mid-August (6/18 - 8/20), I will be taking a summer break from posting new articles for my Thursday and Friday slots. This will only affect my Thursday series on the global growth of Christianity, and my Friday series, the "Theological Bestiary" of birds, both of which will resume in late August. During the summer, I'll be dusting off some of my best essays from the first few years of this blog (a decade ago), as well as my verse play "Thus Ends the World," and re-posting them in the Thursday and Friday slots. All other weekdays will continue to feature new material throughout the summer.