So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.
Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing round it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.
At supper that last evening Jesus tells his disciples, “Where I am going you cannot come”. Peter responds: “ I will lay down my life for you.” Five hours later, at the house of Annas, he is asked if he is a disciple and declares “I am not”. He repeats the denial twice. There are five hours between the two events; John takes five chapters to record what Jesus tells them about the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the consequences. In those five hours they learned that he must leave them and be betrayed. Small wonder Peter found it hard to take, and characteristically vows: “I will lay down my life for you”. Five hours later he denied he ever knew him.
We are always quick to condemn Peter for his denial and desertion, but it is easy for us; we weren’t there. And is it really that simple? Jesus had told Peter that he will be betrayed and each time Peter had protested. In those five long hours he tells them he will go away and they must accept that. Was Peter so downcast at the thought of losing his master, and so disillusioned when Jesus refused Peter’s attempts to defend him with a knife at his arrest, that he finally gave up? It is not for us to judge; our own discipleship can be equally despondent. In these five hours and five chapters, Jesus talks of the Way, the Truth and the Life. The Way was hard and Peter stumbled; the Truth was harder and Peter needed time to work it out – it took him three days; but when he came to the empty tomb he found a resurrection that made sense of everything. And so must we.
O Lord Jesus Christ, who are the Way, the Truth, and the Life: suffer us not, we pray you, to wander from you, who are the Way; nor to distrust you who are the Truth; nor to look for strength anywhere but in you, who are the Life; ever living and reigning with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen
The Rev’d Peter Moth,retired minister and broadcasting executive, St Andrew’s, Kenton, Newcastle upon Tyne