Lord, your closest friends and disciples believed they would never deny you, yet they did. May I never be deceived into thinking I am above the weaknesses and arrogance of another believer, but rather may I be driven by a hunger for your word, and may I be held fast by the firm grip of your grace to stand in faith and spiritual fortitude today—and every day.
After many weeks away from the blog—and from the book of Mark—I’m back to continue making my way through this book of good news. (Good is grossly insufficient, of course—this is great news. This is the best news!) Yet today’s passage is a glimpse into the ugliness of human blindness and arrogance, as we rejoin Jesus and his disciples in Mark 14:26-31:
And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him,“Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same. (ESV)
“I would never…”
These are some dangerous words, I have come to learn. They are words that I have said many times. Hearing about some irresponsible deed by someone else—”I would never.” Witnessing someone being a horrible human being in some way, big or small—”I would never.”
Of course, I have said I would never do something… and then found myself in a situation where suddenly the more honest answer is, “Well, actually, I might…” I believe the word for this is “situational ethics.” If provoked, if hormonal, if hungry, if broke, if sufficiently terrified for my own safety, heck, if merely insulted—I might.
They are words that make a liar of out of us every time.
Jesus tells his disciples that something is about to happen that will cause them all to leave him—”to be scattered.” In my Bible, this section of scripture has the heading, “Jesus foretells Peter’s denial.” But, in fact, Jesus is foretelling all of the disciples’ denial, not just Peter’s. And Peter isn’t the only one who says “emphatically, ‘If I must die with you, I will not deny you.'” The last sentence of verse thirty-one says, “And they all said the same.”
They all said the same.
We know the story here. It is familiar to anyone who has gone to church during Holy Week. Jesus foretells Peter’s denial—”before the rooster crows… you will deny me.” And the rooster does. And Peter does.
We always hear that Jesus addresses “before the rooster crows… you will deny me” to Peter, but I think it was for all of the disciples. Because that’s what happened. Peter and all of them said they would not. And then they did.
It is tempting to me right now to focus on the good news about this little black mark in Christian history, the part where Jesus “reinstates Peter.” But that is not going to come in the book of Mark, at least not in detail. John reports the beautiful details of the reconciliation between Peter and Jesus in chapter 21 of his book, but we don’t see it here in Mark. And I’m trying to be faithful to just look at what is actually here in the text.
So this is what most haunts me about this passage: They all said the same. “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” They uttered this bold claim, this promise, before they had any idea of what was about to happen. And they had no idea what they would really do when the rubber met the road and their faith in Jesus as Messiah was put to the test.
The message to me? Be careful, Christy. Be humble, Christy. Stop talking, Christy.
Instead, be attentive. Be open to God working in a way that is not what you expect. Be receptive to the mystery of what lies behind what you see. And trust God.
Trust God when all hell breaks loose.
Trust God when you are pressed… persecuted… perplexed… struck down.
Trust God, but don’t boast in your trusting.
Never say to or toward someone whose faith has failed, “I would never…” Instead, present your confusion, your questions, your fears, and your failings to Christ.
And wait for the rest of the story.
Is there any presence of spiritual arrogance in you? Search for it. Pray, and invite the Lord to show you where you are arrogantly, or ignorantly, saying, “I would never…” Recognize that, in fact, you might, but for the grace of God, which keeps you and enables you to trust. Confess it and let it serve to tenderize your heart toward others, so that instead of saying, “I would never,” you can say, with the Apostle Paul, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” (1 Cor 15:10).