Read Mark 14
Focus on verse 71
Fear can cause us to do things that we otherwise would not do. When we are fearful, adrenaline is released into the bloodstream moving us into what is sometimes called the “fight or flight” mode. With a high level of adrenaline a person gains a temporary boost in strength, stamina and pain resistance. All of these are designed to help us survive in a crisis situation. When a person is in this mode it is more difficult to control one’s actions. Ironically, while fear is designed to help us survive, it can also cause us to fail. This is the power of fear.
In today’s reading, Mark describes the arrest and trial of Jesus on the night that he was betrayed by Judas. The disciples scatter just as Jesus told them they would, though many of them protested that they would be willing to die with him. Peter was one of the most vocal of that group, yet when the moment of Jesus arrest came about, Peter was the one who drew that sword to defend Jesus, but when Jesus rebuked him for it he also fled.
To his credit he didn’t just run off and hide as some of the others presumably did, but followed at a distance to the house of the High Priest where the trial/kangaroo court took place. As Peter waited and watched from the courtyard, some of the other bystanders recognized him as one of Jesus followers. I can imagine the jolt of adrenaline Peter felt when this occurred, and it seems that almost without thinking he denies knowing Jesus. When it happens a second time – the fear level ratchets up a little higher causing him to be more forceful with his denial.
But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man of whom you speak.” (v. 71)
When the rooster crows for the second time immediately following this, Peter is reminded of Jesus words,
“Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. (v. 72)
Peter had the best intentions. He had been the one who had emphatically claimed he would die before he turned his back on Jesus! Yet now, in the heat of the moment, when the chips were down, he throws Jesus under a bus without a second thought, presumably to save his own skin. Once again, to his credit – when he realized what he had done, he was immediately remorseful and repentant.
This experience of the apostle Peter gives me great consolation because I can readily identify with his experience. There have been more than a few times that I know of and likely many more where I without realizing it, have thrown Jesus under the bus because I was afraid of what people might say or think. The reason I find this account of Peter encouraging is not because Peter was a schlep and denied Jesus, but rather because despite his doing this, Peter went on to be a faithful and productive follower of Jesus to his death. If someone who failed as deeply and as often as Peter could still be considered a successful follower of Jesus, it gives me confidence that God has not yet given up on me either.
Perhaps following Jesus is more about being willing to allow God to pick us up and dust us off and set us going in the right direction again after we fail, than it is about not failing. If God doesn’t give up on us – perhaps we shouldn’t be too quick to give up on each other or ourselves either.