Today we make a huge leap in John. Five chapters from Chapter 13’s reading last week of Jesus washing his disciples feet. To chapter 18, today. In these chapters between, Jesus offers his final words to his disciples, where he literally tells them goodbye. It’s where we see Jesus at his most pastoral: as friend, mentor, teacher, lover. The relationship between Jesus and his disciples - the mutual relationship between them - has deepened over the first half of John. This first half spans three years of their life together. The second half of the gospel of John will span one week.
Most, if not all, of these stories in the second half of John are typically read during Holy Week. But, in this fourth year of the narrative lectionary, we slow it down. Dramatically. Stretching out each of these scenes that we call the passion of Jesus. The suffering of Jesus. We dive deeply into each one of them. As we try to make meaning from them for our own lives.
Then the company of soldiers, the commander, and the guards from the Jewish leaders took Jesus into custody. They bound him and led him first to Annas. He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. (Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it was better for one person to die for the people.)
Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Because this other disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard. However, Peter stood outside near the gate. Then the other disciple (the one known to the high priest) came out and spoke to the woman stationed at the gate, and she brought Peter in. The servant woman stationed at the gate asked Peter, “Aren’t you one of this man’s disciples?”
“I’m not,” he replied. The servants and the guards had made a fire because it was cold. They were standing around it, warming themselves. Peter joined them there, standing by the fire and warming himself.
Meanwhile, the chief priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered, “I’ve spoken openly to the world. I’ve always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews gather. I’ve said nothing in private. Why ask me? Ask those who heard what I told them. They know what I said.”
After Jesus spoke, one of the guards standing there slapped Jesus in the face. “Is that how you would answer the high priest?” he asked.
Jesus replied, “If I speak wrongly, testify about what was wrong. But if I speak correctly, why do you strike me?” Then Annas sent him, bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.
Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing with the guards, warming himself. They asked, “Aren’t you one of his disciples?”
Peter denied it, saying, “I’m not.”
A servant of the high priest, a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off, said to him, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?” Peter denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed.
I’d like you to visualize a place for just a moment. It’s a happy place - the place where you feel most loved and accepted. A place where you are surrounded by those who are your closest friends and family, with whom you have the deepest of relationships. It’s also a beautiful place, a garden that has the loveliest of flowers and green trees. A place that seems Eden-like. Where, when the breeze blows you can hear it gently moving through the leaves of the trees. And feel it cooling your skin. Where, with your loved ones, led by a beloved mentor, you’re able to talk about the most important things of life- to learn from one another. The most stunning thing about this is that you have come to the realization that this mentor, this teacher and shepherd, is God in the flesh.
Now imagine that, one day, while you are there together, one of your group suddenly shows up with a cohort of nearly 600 soldiers, who’ve come to arrest your beloved mentor and teacher. Can you imagine the emotion in that moment? The hurt and the betrayal you feel? The anger that begins to burn inside you? Can you feel the fear in your gut, as you watch him taken away, wondering if you’re next? But, then, your mentor, who seems completely in control of this situation, steps in and convinces the soldiers that he is the one they want. “I am he,” he tells them. Not once, but three times. He convinces them to leave everyone else behind. They take him away. And all the others leave. Except for you. And one other disciple.
You’re name is Peter. That’s right. Peter. Petros. Meaning rock. You don’t know it yet, but you are the one who will become an important leader in building similar communities. These will be so different from other communities in the world, because they will be open and accepting of everyone. A place of deep love and intimacy. Just as you experienced that first time. Communities so countercultural that, in fact, you will lose your life, killed by a world that resists the transforming power of love.
But, you’re not there yet. Because you have mistakes to make. A huge mistake, really, that will make you feel ashamed. For which you will grieve deeply. But, it is a mistake for which you will be forgiven and that will change you in ways you cannot yet fully understand.
That day, friends, after the incident in the garden, Peter and and the other disciple followed Jesus to the home of Annas, then to Caiaphas. Two trials are interwoven in the story of that day. One trial is that of Jesus. But, the other is that of Peter. The disciple in last week’s story who, first, refused to have his feet washed by Jesus. But, then, quickly was “all in.”
We see these two stories interwoven in our text today, which begins with Jesus being questioned by Annas, a former high priest. Outside, at the same time, another story is taking place. Peter is being questioned about who he is. Three times he’s asked, “Aren’t you one of his disciples?”
But, back inside, when Jesus is asked about who he is and what his teachings are, he says, “Ask those who heard what I told them. They know what I said.” We see that statement being fulfilled outside. Where Peter, the prime apostle, is being questioned about Jesus at that moment in the courtyard. Here is his big chance. But, instead of confessing Jesus, he denies him. And, particularly, denies that he is a disciple of Jesus, thus, denying his own identity.
Who are you in this story? This story holds a mirror up to each one of us.
Are you Jesus, willingly being arrested, knowing what is to come? That’s perhaps a little doubtful. But, if you think you are living as Jesus would, perhaps, it’s time to look more deeply inside yourself. At the hubris that exists within you.
Are you Peter, the disciple that is “all in”? Well, most of the time. But not when it really counts. Who, when the pressure is on, denies his own discipleship of Jesus. His own identity as a follower and seeker of Jesus. Now, for some of us, that’s maybe more likely.
Or are you, perhaps, Annas or Caiaphas? Religious leaders that are so concerned about protecting established religion, established denominations, that they are in danger of denying the very essence of what worship of God is all about. I wonder who of us are guilty of this?
And there’s one more character. The unnamed disciple with connections. Who is able to accompany Jesus, but unable to - or unwilling to - stop what is happening or what will come. To change the outcome.
Perhaps there’s a bit of all of these characters in us. We try to be like Jesus, but are often more like Peter. Or the unnamed disciple. Or like Annas and Caiaphas.
This is who we are. This is what we do. We try. But we make mistakes. Big ones at times. Denying our own identities in Christ. Unable to fully follow him. Hung up on the trappings of religion so that we lose sight of what it really means to worship God.
The thing is God knows this. God knows that this is who we are. That we cannot do this alone. That there are deep gaps in our own ability to do this. Not that we don’t try to follow and continuously seek out Jesus. But, that there are times and places where we fail. Mistakes. Gaps.
God fills in those gaps. And only God can fill in those gaps. Fully. This God we follow, mistakes and all. Who overflows with grace. Who is rich in love. For us. Who fills in the gaps and smooths over our mistakes. And who welcomes us back to that garden. That place of deep relationship and belonging. That place where we might have abundant life. Now. And later. Scars and all.
Thanks be to God!