Following at a Distance

There are days that I am so relieved to find out that I am not the only idiot following Jesus.  Sometimes I could kick myself for the stupidity that I get myself into, but I can take comfort in knowing that some of the pillars of our faith were right there with me.  Take Peter for example; the guy couldn’t keep his mouth shut and listen most of the time, he was quick to puff out his chest and presume that he was better than the other disciples, he hauled off and cut the ear of one of the men sent to arrest Jesus as if the Son of God  needed the help of his trusty blade.  Peter was in the physical presence of Jesus himself, everyday, for years, and still couldn’t seem to pull it together much of the time.  It is men like this that remind me that I am normal and that God is looking down and probably just smiling at some of the stupid things I do.

Anyway, the thing I want to talk about this morning is Peters  three denials of Christ.  Jesus told Peter at the last supper that he would deny him three times and that it would happen before the rooster crowed.  Of course Peters pride was injured in front of all the other disciples upon hearing Jesus say such a thing.  I imagine he stood up and made a spectacle of himself when he said “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”  But Jesus knew better and probably just smiled at his friend.

As the story continues we read that Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane after being betrayed by Judas and lead away to be judged by the Sanhedrin.  Peter and all the other disciples fled.  They ran away.  What?!?  They ran away?  Yup, Jesus’ closest friends all ran away.  But Peter followed at a distance.  Suddenly the bravado of  Peter was wiped away and “the Rock” followed at a distance.  I can see him with his robe between his legs, eyes darting, staying in the shadows, as he tailed the contingent of men dragging away the man he knew as the Son of God.

Once they arrived at the courtyard of the Sanhedrin Peter sat down amongst the guards and the folks who were there just to see what would happen next.  It was the reality television of the day.  I bet the talk around the fire was something akin to “who is this crazy rabbi?’ and “I bet he is going to get one hell of a beating”.  Anyway, here Peter sits watching his master basically get lead to the gallows and all he can do is sit around with the paparazzi and watch it unfold.  To make matters worse, a little girl with pigtails (ok, maybe not pigtails) comes up to him and asks if he was one of the guys who had been following Jesus.  “Me?  Of course not!” Peter replies.   Then another girl asks him a second time and still Peter denies it.  Finally, the men there recognize Peters’ accent and ask him a third time.  This drives Peter over the edge and he begins to swear up and down that he does not know Jesus.  I can see him red in the face and hopping mad, yelling at the men in fake offense, “I don’t freaking know that guy!!”

And the rooster crowed…

Jesus turned and looked at Peter, he looked him square in the eye, and the weight of what he had done hit Peter like a ton of bricks.  Peter left and wept bitterly.

I know this feeling, I’m sure we all do.  We turn our backs on the ones we love most when we hurt them with our words and/or deeds.  We turn our backs on our spouses, families, and best friends.  We turn our backs defiantly to God himself, and deny him when we choose the safety of the easy route instead of standing up for Him when things get uncomfortable or tough.

We can take comfort in Peter.  His weeping was his repentance.  He knew that what he had did was wrong and he cried out in anguish to God for it.  I believe it was this instance of repentance that turned Peter from the impulsive, proud, fool of a man, into the leader of the church that he becomes in the book of Acts.  From his lowest point of denial, he turned it around and led the church with a fire that may have only been surpassed by Paul of Tarsus.  Church tradition tells us that Peter never again denied Christ and actually was crucified upside down because he refused to deny Jesus.   Will I find that courage in myself?  Can I follow Peters example?  I pray that I can.

You can find this story in the book of Matthew, chapter 26

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