When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written,
“I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”
But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though all become deserters, I will not.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ But he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same.
One of the most fascinating aspects of behavioural science is how humans behave under stress. Good, righteous, inclusive, law-abiding citizens, when faced with a moment of stress behave in ways which do not reflect their intention or their character. This can most often be reflected in what we say in the heat of an argument, where we desperately want it to finish, either with a concluding blow or a defensive swipe. We can be surprised at how we respond, what we come out with, what pushes our buttons and shapes our response.
History has shown us that evil prevails when the good do nothing. When we allow discrimination or hate speech to be applied to people within our community, we stand by while evil prevails. We see how people are dehumanised. We see how people are scapegoated and vilified. We see how people of different backgrounds and ethnicities, different sexualities and genders, different ages and abilities can be pushed aside, treated as second class, made victims of abuse or violence. We would never wish our friends or family to suffer such treatment and would want people to stand up for good and against evil.
“I will not deny you,” Peter promises Jesus. These are the words of a good and righteous man who knows how he wants to respond. These are words of commitment and honour. Jesus would not be left subject to betrayal, to being left alone, with no one to support or protect. Peter knew he had words to say. He knew the words that were strong words, standing alongside the hurt and the broken, standing up for good over evil.
How would we act? Could we promise the same? Could we know what stresses would cause us to deny? Could we know what persecution would make us run? Could we be sure that good will prevail?
God of good, in the moments of stress in our lives, when we are conflicted or shocked, help us to act as you would want. Bring us your peace at times of distress, and give us the courage to speak out for good, that we may not deny your Son or your Gospel but live for your truth and your love. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Matthew Prevett, Chaplaincy Coordinator, Newcastle University