Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.
Peter is baffled. Jesus is talking about going – but it is night, it’s dark, scarcely a good time for anyone to go out; although admittedly Judas has just done so. And where is Jesus going to? He doesn’t give Peter a direct answer, but about one thing he is adamant. Peter and the others cannot follow as yet. Later, perhaps. In his final teaching discourse Jesus will address Peter’s question. He is going to the Father but by way of death. For the moment, Peter can’t understand what Jesus is saying about departure and who would blame him? He has some idea though that there might be a risk of death and he asserts confidently that he is ready to lay down his life for his Lord. Now that’s not an idle boast. A few hours later, he will draw his sword and begins to fight. Jesus cannot deny Peter’s readiness for death.
But Jesus knows that another sort of trial is coming up – for when the cause seems lost, then Peter will fail and fail badly; he will deny ever having known Jesus. Indeed before cock crow he will have denied Jesus three times.
This exchange between Peter and Jesus teaches us a lesson. We may think that we are loyal followers of Jesus, but when we are unexpectedly put to the test, don’t we try to cope in our own strength? But self-sufficiency is not enough. When we fall short, we make the painful discovery that our trust in God is not total, that our faith is skin deep, that it has not become a habit. Like Peter, we have a bitter sense of failure. But our failure drives us back to God and we discover again the greatness of God’s love and grace.
Loving and merciful God, grant that through constant fellowship with you, we may come to know your grace: the grace of courage, in suffering or danger; the grace of boldness in standing up for what is right; the grace of preparedness, that we may not fall into temptation; the grace of steadfastness in following Jesus Christ our Lord,
The Rev’d Fleur Houston, retired minister, member of Macclesfield and Bollington United Reformed Church