14:66-72 – Here we have the conclusion of the story of Peter’s denial, begun in vv.26-31. To Peter’s credit, he apparently has not fled outright, but rather has stuck close by to see what would happen. This story finds him “below in the courtyard,” just outside of where the Temple guards were beating Jesus. A servant-girl notices him there and recognizes him as one of Jesus followers. She says so out loud, not once but twice, and twice Peter denies it. Then the onlookers voice their agreement with the girl, and Peter angrily curses, swears, and denies all knowledge of Jesus. These are his three denials, and they happen in quick succession. Now, Peter ought to have told the truth, and associated himself with Jesus even if that meant suffering and death. But, at the same time, his reaction is entirely understandable. Who hasn’t felt the fear of being publicly shamed? Who hasn’t told a little lie here or there to avoid such shame? And how much more incentive would one have to lie if the result of the truth would be not only shame, but great physical pain! The wonderful thing about Peter is that he is authentically human—we can see so much of ourselves, our own failings in him. Yes, he ought to have handled this better. But, at the same time, so too should we have handled the thousand tacit denials of Christ that we work into the fabric of our everyday lives when we choose to live according to our own sins and fears rather than according to the painful call to follow Christ in his suffering. The cock crows for the second time, and Peter hears it and knows what has happened. Now he has exactly the right reaction: “He broke down and wept.” The one appropriate response to the brokenness of our sin is sorrow. Some of the ancient saints used to call this “the baptism of tears,” and saw it as an essential element of true repentance. The fact is, we are sinful people who do not always choose the right way, and that should cause us great sorrow. But it is a sorrow with an ending, because Christ is at work in us to make us holy, and we are already accepted and beloved by God, as Christ demonstrates so poignantly to Peter when they meet again after his resurrection (see John 21:15-17).
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.