54 After they arrested Jesus, they led him away and brought him to the high priest’s house. Peter followed from a distance. 55 When they lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.
56 Then a servant woman saw him sitting in the firelight. She stared at him and said, “This man was with him too.”
57 But Peter denied it, saying, “Woman, I don’t know him!”
58 A little while later, someone else saw him and said, “You are one of them too.”
But Peter said, “Man, I’m not!”
59 An hour or so later, someone else insisted, “This man must have been with him, because he is a Galilean too.”
60 Peter responded, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about!” At that very moment, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered the Lord’s words: “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And Peter went out and cried uncontrollably.
Luke 22:54-60 CEB
It’s not sinful to be afraid.
It’s in our nature to feel fear. Fear can be helpful, after all. Fear is what keeps me from wandering around the woods at night and dying of hypothermia. Fear is what keeps me from hitchhiking to Texas every winter when I get tired of being buried in five feet of snow.
Fear itself isn’t harmful. It’s the choices we sometimes make as a result of that emotion that can be harmful. Sometimes we choose to be brave. We choose to face our fear and do what’s right, no matter how afraid we are.
Sometimes we choose cowardice. We choose to cow to our fear and do what’s easy rather than what’s right.
I’ve always had a hard time with Peter. (I’ve always been more of a Paul girl.) He confuses me. In the same night, we see two very different sides of this man. In the book of John, we see Peter jump to Jesus’ defense, and hack off the ear of a guard who’s come to arrest Jesus. That seems like a brave enough act.
However, shortly afterwards, when Peter is identified as a follower of Jesus, he’s so filled with fear that he denies it. That’s a pretty quick turnaround.
Maybe after his arrest-fueled adrenaline high had worn off, he stopped to think things through. What would happen to him if he was associated with Jesus? Would he be imprisoned? Tortured? Executed?
He could do the right thing—the honest and honorable thing—and admit he was one of Jesus’ disciples or he could do the easy thing—the safe thing—and lie. He chose cowardice, and because of that cowardice, he wasn’t present at the foot of the cross as Jesus was crucified.
Now, I don’t mean to come down on Peter too harshly. He was redeemed in the end, and died a martyr’s death.
I’ve wondered why the authors of all four gospels chose to include Peter’s cowardly denial in their accounts. Wouldn’t it make a much better story if Peter was some cool action-figure type of guy who tried to storm the Sanhedrin with Andrew? It’d certainly put him in a better light.
But putting Peter in a good light wasn’t the point. I can’t know for sure why this story was included, but I think they included it to show that everyone, even the most loyal of Christ’s followers, can fall prey to cowardice. None of us are safe, and all of us should be aware of our own inclinations toward cowardice.
Because if we think we’re safe, that it can’t possibly touch us, then it’s so much easier to fall into the trap. We start justifying our actions. “Oh, it’s not really cowardice. What good would it do if I died alongside Jesus? I’m just living to preach another day.”
How can we combat cowardice if we don’t recognize it?
The solution isn’t to deny our fears. Acknowledge your fears. Bring them out into the light and see them for what they are.
Shake in your boots so hard the soles fly off.
Then, choose bravery and do the right thing anyway.
Kristy is an ex-Mennonite adult PK who blogs about life, active pacifism, and wandering through the spiritual wilderness at kristyburmeister.com while consuming ridiculous amounts of coffee and pie.