4th Wednesday in Lent
Scripture Reading: Matthew 26:31-36; Matthew 26:69-75
Peter’s Denial Foretold
31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,
‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
32 But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33 Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.
Peter’s Denial of Jesus
69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” 71 When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”[a] 72 Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
My name is Simon Bar Jonah, but you probably know me better by
the name that he gave me, Cephas, or Peter. I grew up in the town of
Capernaum, nestled alongside the Sea of Galilee.
Capernaum was a small, working-class village of 1000 to 1500 souls.
Most of the folks in our village were quite poor. Some managed to own
their own homes and boats and scrape out a living, despite Roman taxes
The men in my family had fished the waters of the Sea of Galilee for
generations. My father put me to work as soon as I was able, slowly
teaching me the art and craft of fishing.
Eventually, he stepped aside, leaving the family business to my
brother Andrew and me. I was happy enough, I suppose.
Honestly, I knew no better, not for a long time. Jesus changed all that.
He called Andrew and me away from our nets to follow him. Jesus
gathered still more followers and wandered through the countryside
teaching, preaching, and healing.Page 2 of 7
Those were exhilarating days. I never realized how trapped and
stifled I’d been by the boat, the nets, the lake, and the stench of fish. Jesus
I had a well-deserved reputation among the disciples for asking the
questions that no one else dared ask, and for taking exception to what
seemed to me the foolish things Jesus sometimes said.
I also tended to leap before I looked. That’s what happened when I
decided to join Jesus for a stroll on the Sea of Galilee. I made it only a step
or two before my faith faltered and I started to sink beneath the waves.
I cried out for Jesus to save me. He reached down and pulled me up,
then chided me for my lack of faith. It wasn’t the last time Jesus pulled me
out of deep and troubled waters.
Not that Jesus and I didn’t have our differences. We really disagreed,
for example, when he took us toward Jerusalem, where he said he’d die. I
blurted out, “God forbid, Lord!”
He said I was on Satan’s side, not his. His words cut to the heart,
especially because, not long before, I’d confessed Jesus as the Messiah, the
Son of God. I started to wonder just what kind of Messiah Jesus might be.Page 3 of 7
Still, I was proud to walk at Jesus’ side when we entered Jerusalem—
to much acclaim, I might add. The way Jesus took on the religious
authorities left me in awe. He even condemned the corrupt Temple trade in
sacrificial animals, overturning some tables run by the moneychangers.
I worried, though. I knew Jesus couldn’t long get away with doing
what he was doing before the hand of Rome swatted him down.
Soon enough it did, with a mock trial and death verdict. The Romans
made Jesus carry his cross through the streets of Jerusalem on a back
ripped raw and bloody from their scourging.
And the way Jesus died, oh, the way he died—slowly, painfully,
stripped naked for all the world to see. He became an object of scorn,
mocked and humiliated.
At the last, he even cried out in his agony to the God he said had
forsaken him. The other eleven—by then ten—and I felt the same way.
We left Jerusalem after Jesus died, in part because we feared for our
safety. More than that, we wanted to go back to the confines of our old
lives, to the stench of fish and the patching of nets, to the comfort of a small
town and even smaller world.Page 4 of 7
There was no escaping what we’d seen and heard, though, not even
in Capernaum. One morning, while several of us were out fishing on the
lake, someone called to us from shore.
After a long, frustrating night catching nothing, he told us to cast our
nets on the opposite side of the boat. When we hauled them in, fish filled
them to bursting. John knew at once who it was. “It’s the Lord!” he said.
That was all I needed to hear. I jumped into the water and swam for
the shore. I never felt so clean. It was almost as if that was my baptism, just
like the one John gave Jesus.
I never went back to nets or boats or fish again. Instead, I followed
Jesus, even after he stopped appearing to us, trying to align the spiritual
compass of my life with the true north of his presence and guidance.
Sometimes that pull was tenuous and weak. There were even dark
days when it seemed it wasn’t there at all.
Other days, though, it was so powerful and strong that there was no
mistaking it. That’s what happened when the Spirit came rushing down on
us at Pentecost, shoving us out into the world. Page 5 of 7
That day forced me to grapple with my small-town roots in
Capernaum. There were no Gentiles there. Everyone was an observant Jew,
trying as best they could to follow the law.
Jesus challenged me, in a vision, to look beyond that, to step out of
the boat once more and include in the circle of his love those who had
never been and did not want to be part of Israel or its laws or its traditions.
It was hard, but I followed. There were still times that Jesus had to
pull me back up out of my prejudice and long-held beliefs.
Even so, I encouraged others to follow him down that path as well,
especially Paul and Barnabas when they came to Jerusalem, asking to take
the gospel out among the Gentiles.
I remembered how the Spirit sent me to a Roman centurion named
Cornelius, and how the Spirit fell upon him and his family. Surely the
gospel was destined to leave the safety of its Jerusalem boat, and to venture
out onto the wider, wilder waters of the world.
At the last, I found my way to Rome, just as Paul had. We confronted
the Empire at its heart, and it tried to do to us what it tried to do to Jesus,
silencing us by taking our lives. But it failed—oh, how it failed.Page 6 of 7
I have since watched with wonder as the risen Jesus conquered the
very empire that tried to put him to death. As always, though, I worried a
little, too. We’re quite content with where we are, you and I, spiritually and
personally, if not geographically.
It’s tempting to stay in Capernaum, in the confines of a past with its
prejudices and small, inward ways of thinking.
It’s tempting to believe that faith is a matter of knowing all the
answers, rather than of pursuing a call and walking a path that stretches
out into an unknown future, one that can include suffering and death and
Still, we needn’t fear. Failure, as your pastor says, is never final. I
betrayed Jesus that night as the authorities questioned him, denying that I
knew him three times, just as he said I would.
But that day on the shore of Galilee, I overcame my threefold denial
with a threefold affirmation of my love for Jesus. He then told me to love
and care for his sheep. For the rest of my life, I tried to do just that. Our
betrayals and failures are as nothing when compared to Christ’s love for
us.Page 7 of 7
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, wherever you have been,
whatever struggles you’ve endured, none of it defines you. Jesus does. His
presence, his grace, his call to risk and to sometimes to suffer and die, they
Be prepared to discover—often—that you’re wrong. Your pat
certainties will dissolve before the living Lord who sweeps aside the stone
sealing him in his tomb, walking with us into a future of hope and grace, a
future of new life and promise, of joy and struggle, of pain and sorrow.
That future, bound only by the knowledge and love of God, forever
breaks into the Capernaums of our lives, urging us forward to new
adventures and challenges, following the One who still calls us from our
nets and tells us that now we are to fish for people