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April 13, 2014 - Matthew 26.31-75

“The Rooster”

Matthew 26:31-35, 57-58, 69-75

April 13, 2014

 

31Then 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.’ 32But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” 34Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” 35Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.

57Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end.

69Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” 71When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” 73After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. 75Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

 

She doesn't have a name. She is only mentioned for a few verses and only one place in the Bible. I don't know where she came from or anything about her, except that she was "a servant girl." She is a paidiske, that is, a young woman who is in service.

 

Let me set the scene. It is late at night, toward the end of this Holy Week. It is after the last supper when Jesus had gathered with his disciples in an upper room. The Passion of Christ has begun. The soldiers have seized Jesus and have led him away to the palace. At the palace, Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate and is on trial. But out in the darkness, in the courtyard, down below, another trial takes place. Judge and jury at that trial is a servant girl. And though we don't know much about her, if she is only a girl, but also only a servant, we know that she is a small, insignificant, powerless person. She is not only a woman in a patriarchal culture, but she is also a servant woman. And she is young. Some of you are young and you know that also means you are powerless, on the bottom. And this little, powerless girl is the one who puts Peter, the premier disciple, through his paces.

 

Earlier in the evening, when Jesus and his disciples were in the upper room at dinner, Peter declared that he would stick with Jesus, no matter what. Jesus had said to his disciples, "All of you will fall away." Peter blurted out, "Though all the rest of these losers will desert you, I am behind you all the way, Jesus." As it turned out, he was behind Jesus, far, far, behind Jesus. When the soldiers came to take Jesus, all the disciples fled into the darkness. Peter kept behind at a safe distance. But though he could not closely follow Jesus, he couldn't leave him either. He therefore ends up, in the middle of the night, in a courtyard where some soldiers warm themselves around a fire.

 

And there in the courtyard, this servant girl puts Peter through his paces. "You also were with the Galilean," she says. And Peter replies, "Woman, I don't know what you are talking about." Note that he doesn't just say, "I don't know what you are talking about." He says, "Woman, I don't know what you are talking about." Perhaps he said this to ridicule her before the bystanders. She is a woman, she is young, she is a servant, what does she know?

 

Peter is clearly put on the defensive by her statement. She is not necessarily accusing him. She just declares a fact. "You were with Jesus."

 

And before this assertion, Peter, the one whom Jesus had nicknamed, "the rock," the premier disciple, the one who had been with Jesus from the very first and had heard all of his teaching and observed all of his action, Peter says to her, "I didn't even know him." Three times he says, "Woman, I didn't even know him."

Oh, the power of that young woman! She may have been young, a woman, and a serving woman at that, but in three short sentences, she has completely crushed, "the rock." She has forced Peter to deny Jesus, not once, but thrice. And Peter stumbles out into the darkness beyond the fire and weeps like a baby.

 

Some time ago, on a much brighter sunnier day, Jesus had asked, "Who do people say that I am?"  Peter's hand was the first to go up. "You are the Christ, the son of the God!"  And Jesus had said in response, "I'll build my church on this rock." And from that day on Jesus had called him Peter which means in Greek "rock." Peter's confession is the very rock upon which Jesus will build his church.

 

And when they were all seated around the table in the warmth of the upper room, when Jesus predicted that everyone would desert him, Peter blurted out, "Though everyone will desert you, I will stick beside you." But in the darkness of this dangerous week, with the soldiers on the prowl, and this impudent young woman, this serving woman interrogating him publicly, Peter appeared as anything but the rock.

 

The power of that woman! There she stood before the best that Jesus could do, by way of disciples, the premier and most powerful of the disciples, and she made him testify, show what he was made out of. It was Peter's final and most important exam. And he flunked.

 

I identify with Peter so often.  He is the voice of the disciples.  He fails a lot. 

 

We are here at Peter’s lowest hour – when the rooster crows and his betrayal is complete.  Peter can be such a tragic figure, it seems.  He is the first to say aloud that Jesus is the Christ, and yet here, he hides.  He is afraid to admit who and what he is.  This is Peter’s sin.

 

Alcoholics Anonymous – “Hi.  I’m Bob.  I’m an Alcoholic.  But by the grace of Higher Power, a recovering one.”  Sin is serious – all sin.  All sin is ordinary.  Jesus tells us to cut off hands and pluck out eyes.  I stand before you a one armed and one-eyed pastor.  “Hi.  I’m Allen.  I’m a sinner.  But by the grace of God, a recovering one.”

 

Peter – charcoal fire.  Denies knowing Jesus.  3 times.  No, I don’t know him.  Later, (in John 21) Peter is on the beach, after resurrection, and Jesus asks him “Do you love me?” 3 times.  That must have stung.  Truth hurts.  But it also heals.  By addressing it, Jesus gave Peter the ability to overcome his failures.  Wounds not treated do not heal.

 

Think of the most evil of sins.  Hitler.  The most evil?  Yet the Nazis were special because they were so ordinary.  Civilized, modern nation.  Ordinary.  6 million Jews.  Hitler?  It took all of them to do it.  They all had to remain quiet in the face of injustice.  Who ran the trains?  Who rounded the Jews up?  Someone made the bullets.  Someone pumped the gas.  Someone made every little golden star sewed to their clothing.  No one asked questions – at least not enough people did.  It took a lot of ordinary sinners to just act normal to work such a vast evil.  That’s the real lesson to be learned.  It was not the uniqueness of the Nazi horror – it was how ordinary it was.  So many Christians, keeping silent, and denying they knew Jesus.

 

Silence can be denial.  Ever not speak up?  Hallway?  Locker room?  Lunch café?  Shop on the street?  Sometimes we should be silent, but other times we should stand up and be counted, even if the number just makes it to 1.  If we keep silent, we deny and betray Christ all over again.  Judas did it for the money.  What will your reason be?  What lame excuse will I come up with?  “Go along to get along?”  “Didn’t want to stir things up?”  “Might lose my job.” 

 

Will Willimon talks about a former student he had:

“He was telling me that he and his roommate were not getting along too well. I asked him why, and he said, "Because he is a Muslim and I'm not." I asked him how that made a difference. And he said, "When we moved in together, he asked me what my religion was. I told him that I was a Christian. A Lutheran - I told him that my family wasn't the very best of Christians and that we only went to church occasionally and it wasn't that big a deal to me. My roommate has this nasty habit of asking embarrassing questions." "What sort of questions?" I asked. "Well after we had roomed together a few weeks, he asked me, 'Why do you Christians never pray?'"

"I told him, 'We pray a lot. We just sort of keep it to ourselves.'"

"He said, 'I'll say that you do. I've never seen you pray.' He prays like a half dozen times a day on his prayer rug in our room, facing East. When I came in last Saturday morning, and he asked me, 'Doesn't your St. Paul say something about joining your body with that of a prostitute?'"

I told him, "Look, she is not a prostitute, she is Tri Delta. I told you I am not the best Christian in the world. You shouldn't judge the Christian faith by me!" And I, hearing of his torment said, "Well how should he judge the Christian faith? I think I need to write your Muslim roommate a thank-you note. If he keeps working on you with these questions, he may make you into a real Christian."

 

Ordinary Sin made the disciples cowards at Calvary.  But in the book of Acts they are heroes of the faith.  Grace does that to you.  Once you realize that you are an ordinary sinner, God can begin to do great things.  That’s what this week is about.  Our ordinary and very real sin, that would imprison us in mediocre lives, is shattered into dust by the extraordinary love of Jesus.

 

“Peter, do you love me?”  “Oh, yes, Jesus.  We love you.”