Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In today’s reading, we have skipped over several chapters of John’s Gospel, from where we were last week. Remember we were in Chapter 13? We heard the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Remember what Peter did then? First, he tried to prevent Jesus his Lord from washing his feet. Then when Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me,” Peter goes overboard, begging Jesus to wash not just his feet but also his head and hands. We should keep in mind Peter’s impulsiveness when we are looking at today’s Gospel.
We begin our reading in Chapter 18, verse 12. Jesus is brought before Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas. Our portion of the reading is about both the questioning of Jesus and Peter’s denial. There are two things we need to remember about Jesus’s arrest in John’s Gospel.
When Judas and the soldiers arrive, Jesus steps forward and asks who they are looking for. They reply, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replies, “I AM.” According to John’s Gospel, they all fell prostrate on the ground. When they’d recovered themselves, Jesus asks them again, and they reply, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus’s reply is the same, “I AM.” Jesus is declaring his relationship to God. It is God that says “I AM” when asked for a name in the Old Testament. Jesus, not the soldiers, is the one in control of what is happening here.
The second thing we need to remember is the size of the army that came to arrest Jesus. There were far more than we usually see in the story, as depicted in movies. A division in the Roman army, which what is depicted in this Gospel, consisted of 600 soldiers and several commanders. First, that’s a lot of soldiers to arrest one man. Second, when the soldiers and the leaders tried to arrest Jesus, Peter drew his sword and cut off a slave’s ear, defending Jesus. What was he thinking?? He could have been killed! These two images are important for understanding today’s reading.
After Jesus was taken away, Peter and the beloved disciple followed behind. And when they came to the place where Jesus was being questioned, they were allowed into the fenced courtyard. As the girl, who was guarding the gate, let Peter in, she asked him, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” And Peter said, “I am not.”
The second time he was asked, Peter was standing by a fire trying to get warm. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it again and said, “I am not.”
And finally, one of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter denied even being with Jesus!
Peter denied his discipleship three times before the cock crowed. Interspersed between Peter’s denials, we hear that Jesus has been brought to Annas the father-in-law of Caiaphas, where he is questioned. Jesus replied to the question, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.”
When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”
So what are we do to with this gospel? Where do we find ourselves in the story? Are we with Peter, who enthusiastically tried to defend Jesus, only to collapse when his faith is tested? Do we rush in to help, but falter when we see the enormity of the crisis?
The invasion of Ukraine can seem overwhelming. What can one person do in the face of such violence and tragedy? We are blessed to have organizations like Lutheran World Relief so we can contribute what we can. Even if it seems like a drop in the bucket, it helps to know that our small contribution will be gathered with other donations to make a real difference in the plight of the refugees.
I think we all can feel a bit like Peter in the courtyard, uneasy declaring our faith, worrying that others might not be receptive or even hostile to talking about God. Peter seems to have lost his courage as he stands among people who may mock him or, worse yet, report him to the authorities.
Sometimes it helps to pray and ask Jesus to give us the courage to share our faith and invite friends to join us here as we support each other and worship God together. We know the rest of Peter’s story. He became a leader in the Christian community, sharing the Gospel wherever he was called. While we cannot all be evangelists like Peter, we can love our neighbors right here, no matter their ethnicity gender or legal status. Because we know we are loved, we are called to share the love of God through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.
Let us pray. God, we are here gathered to worship and to remember the gift of your son Jesus. Help us to remember that we belong to You and that Jesus walks with us wherever we go. Amen.