"The Apostle's Speech" ~ Rev. Richard Eslinger
Following the Supper, Jesus prophesied that this night, “all of you will have your faith in me shaken.” Peter’s bold response was that “mine will never be” (shaken to the core, that is). Then, the Lord directs a prophesy to Peter—“this very night before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter once more insists on his loyalty—“I will never deny you.” Then St. Matthew continues to chronicle the events of this night, first with the scene in Gethsemane—where Peter and the Sons of Zebedee fall asleep three times as Jesus goes off a bit to pray in agony to his Father. Then came in rapid succession three further scenes: Judas’ betrayal of Jesus with a kiss, the arrest of the Lord, and the flight into the darkness of the disciples. Now St. Matthew offers us two scenes that could be considered as happening in “split- screen”: The trial of Jesus in Caiaphas’ house and Peter’s actions in the courtyard outside. Jesus endures three false accusations and the verdict that “he deserves to die!” Jesus is then beaten, slapped, and spat upon.” In the morning he will be taken to Pilate.
But Peter has not taken off with the others. Instead, he comes as close to Jesus as he safely can, loitering in the courtyard just a stone’s throw from the show trial going on inside. People have gathered there outside in the darkness, lots of muttered bits of conversation and milling around. Peter has sought out a location in the shadows that seems to promise him anonymity and, therefore, safety. But a servant girl comes over to him and says “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” For such a statement to come from a lowly servant girl would not seem much of a threat. She has virtually no power at all. But her comment does attract the attention of others and Peter blurts out “I do not know what you are talking about!” What Peter has insisted here is that he has no knowledge of Jesus whatsoever. He denies having any part in the earlier events of the night and he pushes aside his relationship with his Lord. But notice that though this pattern of setting aside a close relationship with Jesus might have originated here on
this night, it certainly continues right through to this day.
There might be times when, at work or elsewhere, a casual racist or sexist
comment is made, followed by some snickers from others. You may smile a
bit, but do not gently note to the colleague or friend that the comment is out
of bounds, inappropriate. By not speaking up, the toxic attitudes are
maintained and other children of God are once more demeaned. At the heart
of the matter, you are saying, by not saying anything, that you have no
relationship with Jesus.
Other situations present themselves in which you are assumed to be
included in a group that shows bias toward others, maybe by depicting their
appearance as like some politician the group really dislikes. By remaining
quiet, you once more are saying that you have no relationship with Jesus.
Even within the church, such behaviors can pop up now and then. Whether
the issue is the “traditional Mass” versus the most recent Missal of 2011 or the
different styles of worship within ethnic or majority parishes, to treat other
followers of Christ in stereotyping ways is, once again, to say with Peter, “I
have no relationship with Jesus.”
So Peter’s first line of defense against this servant girl is to deny any knowledge of Jesus. He is threatened to be found out and in no way does he see the occasion as an opportunity for martyrdom. Peter divorces himself from his Lord on this night.
While heading out of the courtyard gate, it happened again to Peter. Another servant girl said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus the Nazorean.” Her comment upped the stakes. Two witnesses against him, both insisting on his relationship to Jesus. This time, he makes the denial with an oath: “I do not know the man!” Adding an oath is a huge escalation in Peter’s attempt to lie his way out of the situation. The Greek word for “oath” has its origin in the word that refers to a fence or enclosure. So, when someone makes an oath, they are setting up some constraints, some enclosure for themselves. They are pledging that their thoughts and actions will not go outside the perimeter of that oath. To this day, an oath in a court of law signifies that the person is making an enclosure around all their words: they will be truthful. There is a sacred restraint around the oath,…”So help me God,” we hear. Here is a colossal irony as Peter attempts to lie his way out of this courtyard. He makes a sacred oath that he does not know the One who is inside the palace speaking of himself as the Son of Man!
For those of us gathered this Sunday, we also know what making a sacred oath is like. Our catechumens are aware that the promises they will make at their Baptism at the Easter Vigil constitute a sacred oath, a covenant with our Triune God. We go down into the waters of our baptism and come up sharing sacramentally in Christ’s death and resurrection. This covenant now is firm. We will not turn ever to Satan. We reject sin and the glamour of evil. Our oath sets us within that enclosure reserved for the children of God. Our oath continues as we affirm the historic faith of the Church—our belief in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Once again, our sacred oath encloses us within the pasture of the Good Shepherd, the One one is the resurrection and the life.
On this night, Peter uses an oath to distance himself from any knowledge of Jesus. Our baptismal vows are sacred oaths that bind us to the Jesus Christ and enclose us within his church. Here we dwell in the light of his truth and saving power. Safety will not be found in denial and falsehoods.
Now comes a new wrinkle for Peter. This time, several men come over, probably after talking it over themselves, and say to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; even your speech gives you away.” Peter’s speech? The Greek means dialect or accent. And sure enough, Peter cannot deny that he has a deep Galilean dialect. Certainly not that of an upright Judean! Now Peter is betrayed, ironically, by the very speech he used to protest his being associated with Jesus. In his denials, he has convicted himself! Once again, he insists, “I do not know the man.” But since this third denial comes from one who is obviously an outsider from Galilee, he only drives home his affiliation with Jesus as he talks. But now, he turns to that universal language of cursing, probably picked up during his long years as a fisherman. He begins “to curse and to swear.” His profanity is a sure sign that he lies. But to reinforce his failure, “immediately a cock crowed.” And immediately “Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: “Before the cock crows you will deny me three times.” Utterly defeated and morally bankrupt, Peter goes
out and weeps bitterly. He has failed his Lord and his own best intentions. His only recourse is to weep tears of regret and spiritual failure.
Now, in our own day, on this Day of the Palms and the Passion, perhaps we are learning that our speech should give us away. Maybe our speech with each other and with those in the world should reveal who we are as the Beloved Community in Christ. In an Epistle attributed to St. Peter, we are admonished, “Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17) In a season where we are so divided culturally and politically, we are not to add fuel to the fire by the way in which we speak. The “family of believers” has a
distinctive speech, an “accent” that honors everyone, ever our persecutors. This is a way of speaking we learned in our study of the saints of the church, a manner of speech that is nourished at the Holy Eucharist, and is precisely that way of speaking we learn from our risen Lord Jesus.
Jesus spoke this way at his so-called “trial” and he continued to speak with this accent of peace right through to the end when he cried out and breathed his last. It is the accent of love that our risen Lord continues to speak to us, to this family of believers. Thanks be to God.
"Deep Wounds" ~ Rev. Benjamin Roberts
I read the passion of Jesus and I am convicted by one question. How shallow is my faith? When I hear of the arrest, the trial, the sufferings, the pain, the mocking, and the crucifixion of Jesus, I am disturbed by one question. How shallow is my faith?
How shallow is my faith? How shallow is my commitment to following the Lord Jesus?
The passion of Christ convicts me. I look at his rejection and his sufferings and his isolation and his obedience to the Father and I think of my own desire for convenience and for comfort. I will follow you, Lord Jesus, to the upper room, but could you please make sure that we have comfortable chairs? I will follow you, Lord Jesus, to the garden to pray, but could we have our time for prayer a little earlier or a little later? I will follow you. Lord Jesus, when you are arrested and taken for trial, but, could I please have a place to stand with people just like me? I will follow you, Lord Jesus, when you are convicted, but I will stay near the charcoal fire to keep warm. I will follow you, Lord Jesus, just as long as it is convenient for me and I am comfortable. How shallow is my faith?
How shallow is my faith? Would I celebrate the Eucharist publicly if it would lead to my arrest? Would I celebrate the Eucharist publicly if it could lead to my assassination at the altar, as it did for St. Oscar Romero forty-three years ago last week? Would I preach the name of Jesus and would I preach the truth in the name of Jesus if I could be condemned in the public square and confined by the halls of justice? How shallow is my faith when I seek the coddled Christianity of convenience and comfort? Does not the passion of Christ call me to something greater? Does not the offering of the life of Jesus Christ command more from my life?
How shallow is my faith . . . but how deep are the wounds of Christ. To enter deeply into the wounds of Christ is where my faith will be deepened. A shallow faith will not survive a persecution. A shallow faith that seeks first convenience and comfort will not survive the hours of trial. But in the deep wounds of Christ, I will find my lasting comfort. In the deep wounds of Christ, I will find the strength of faith. In the deep wounds of Christ, I will place my life and my hope and my faith.
I do not want a shallow faith of convenience and comfort. I want a saving faith in Christ, and I want for each of you a saving faith in Christ. We will find it the deep wounds of Christ.